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The Philosophy of 


Associate Professor of Philosophy, 
Fordham University 


© Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1964 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 64-19903 

Manufactured in the United States of America 


Lucida spei sidera 


In preparing this volume, the following intentions have been 
principally in mind: to provide a text which covers the standard 
topics treated in a course in epistemology and at the same time to 
present these as living questions; to provide a generous amount 
of historical information on what representative thinkers have held 
on these questions; to provide extensive reference to those aspects 
of the problem of knowledge which have emerged in contemporary 
philosophy; to provide a book which actually deals in a directly 
reflective philosophical manner with both classical and contem- 
porary problems. 

The aim, then, is both informational and philosophical, and a 
central philosophical point, conveyed both directly and obhquely, 
is that reflection in the philosophy of knowledge is still going on. 
Therefore, an attempt has been made to give a more open and 
unfinished air to the discussions than is customary with a text- 
book. Footnotes are deliberately more frequent than is usual, with 
the aim of convincing the student of the current and continuingly 
dialectical character of the issues, and also with the sheer informa- 
tional intention of acquainting him with the literature; they are 
meant as an integral pedagogical part of the course. 

Although the book has been written from a definite philosophi- 
cal standpoint, every effort has been made to render it easily uti- 
lizable by those who do not share this standpoint. As indicated, 
aU standard topics in the customary epistemological course are 
treated in a relatively straightforward manner, and it is hoped that 
an instructor who prefers to confine himself to these topics, with- 

via Foreword 

out bothering about less familiar matters, wiU be able to do so 
simply by selecting the proper sections. Conversely, one who wants 
to roam farther afield should find ample material from which to 
choose. It is unlikely that every topic in the book could be covered 
in a course of normal length. 

My primary debt of gratitude in connection with this book is to 
Mr. Philip Scharper, an outstanding editor, whose suggestion orig- 
inally inspired it and whose encouragement and generously coop- 
erative attitude made its writing a pleasant task. My thanks also 
go to Dr. Bernard B. Gilligan of Fordham University, for many 
illuminating and extremely helpful conversations on the philosophy 
of von Hildebrand. Finally, I should like to seize what seems to 
be a good opportunity to signalize the ancient debt which I owe 
to Rev. David C. Cronin, S. J., of Fordham University, in whose 
classes my preoccupation with epistemological problems was long 
ago awakened; generations of Fordham students will join me in 
their esteem for this philosopher, an irrepressible mind and a class- 
room teacher sui generis. 

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Fordham University Press 
for their permission to reprint material in Chapter X which first 
appeared in my The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel, 1962; and to 
International Philosophical Quarterly, for permission to use the 
paragraph on Proust, in Chapter V, which first appeared in an 
article, "Recent Anglo-American Views on Perception," IV, 122- 






The Situation of Common Sense 


The Existential Aspect 

Analogy of Knowledge 

Method in Epistemology 


The Paradox of Error 

The Discovery of the Cogito 


The Escape Route 

Dream and Reality 


"Inside" and "Outside" 

The Bi-polarity of Consciousness 

Being-in-a- World 

The Epistemological Circle 

The Question as Irreducible Beginning 


"Naive Realism" 

Locke and Representationalism 

X Contents 

Contemporary Views 

a) Scientism 

b) Sense-Datum Approach: A Way Out? 

1) Moore, Russell, Broad 

2) Ayer and Phenomenalism 

c) Linguistic Analysis 

1) Stebbing's Paradigm Argument 

2) Ostensive Signification 

3) Wittgenstein, Ryle, and "Ordinary Language" 


Scholastic Solutions: Preliminary 

Virtual Realism 

Evaluation of Virtual Realism 

Summing Up 

Puzzles About "Objectivity" 


The Primitive Assertion 

First Principles 

The Priority of the First Principles 

Causality and Determinism 

The Critique of Hume and Kant 

Evidence, Certitude and Doubt 





Meanings and Instances 


Concepts as Creative Apprehensions 


On "Knowing Essences" 
Dewey, Pragmatism and Truth 
Social and Historical Dimensions 

Contents xi 


Hume's Objection 
Ayer's Tautology View 
Von Hildebrand and Philosophical Insight 


On the Nature of Evidence 
Kierkegaard and Subjectivity 
Marcel: Problem and Mystery 
Transcendence and "Proof" 
Free Certitude 


"Other Minds" 

Direct Knowledge of the Other 

I and Thou 


The Philosophy of Science 
Moral arui Aesthetic Experience 

13. REPRISE 290 
INDEX 301 





"All men by nature desire to know." Aristotle begins his meta- 
physics with this thought and he seems to believe that this urge 
to know not only can be realized but actually is realized in his 
own work. Not without reason has he been called the "master of 
those who know." 

But two generations earlier Socrates had built his own philo- 
sophical career on a somewhat different foundation, the conviction 
that no man had knowledge. His interpretation of the Delphic 
oracle's pronouncement that "No man alive is wiser than Socrates," 
came down to just this: no man had knowledge, but other men 
thought they knew while Socrates alone knew that he did not 
know.^ This was his sole claim to pre-eminence, and it may strike 
us as a rather meager one. 

At first sight we would seem to have here two rather sharply 
opposed views of the human condition: on the one hand an affir- 
mation of a universal and realizable deske to know, on the other 
a seeming affirmation of universal ignorance as the natural pre- 
dicament of man. But there is still another aphorism which will 
help to reconcile these two approaches. 

Philosophy, says Plato, begins in wonder.^ It is primarily wonder 
(to thaumazein), and no man who lacks this capacity can ever 
attain to philosophical insight. Since this sentiment is derived from 

1 Plato, Apology, 21-23. 

2 Plato, Theaetetus, 155. 

4 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

Socrates and shared by Aristotle, it may well repay a closer exam- 

The "wonder" which is spoken of here should not be thought 
of as equivalent to any sort of "curiosity" or need to collect 
information; nor is it like the bewilderment one might feel in the 
face of an elaborate mechanism, whether the mechanism of an 
IBM 705 or the clockwork of a carbon molecule. Philosophical 
wonder is not primarily before the compHcated and abstruse, but 
before the simple, the obvious, the close at hand. It is the obvious 
which is most unfathomable, and it is in the region of the near at 
hand that the great philosophical questions have emerged and in 
which they continue to dwell. 

What is change, being, motion, time, space, mind, matter? Of 
such questions has the career of philosophy been made. Among 
them all, perhaps the paramount one is that which Socrates singled 
out for primacy at the beginning through his adoption of the 
maxim "Know thyself": Who am I? What does it mean to be a 
self, and to be just this self which I uniquely am? Here we have 
a perfect coincidence of the obvious and the mysterious: the 
maxim "Know thyself" turns us to that which is at the same time 
nearest at hand, and yet most distant. 

And with this we meet at once the ambiguous compenetration 
of the near and the far which characterizes every genuine experi- 
ence of philosophical wonder. Wonder begins with the obvious, 
but it is as if it begins with a "distancing" of the obvious, an 
endeavor to retain the immediacy of the questioned datum while 
bathing it in an aura of absolute strangeness. In one sense, nothing 
could seem odder than to question a thing which is already present 
to us: for if it is present, then we know it as present, and it would 
€ven seem that we have already to know what it is in order to 
ask what it is. This is the peculiarity of which Plato speaks in the 
Meno.^ To find something we are looking for, we must already 
know what we are looking for; therefore, to find the answer to our 
question about "what" things are, we must be able to recognize it 

3 Meno, 80; Theaetetus, 196-200; cf. Phaedo, 73. 

The Status of Knowing 5 

as the right answer, and so must already know it. A paradox, no 
doubt, and probably a crucial one, for it directs our attention to 
different meanings for "knowing." 

St. Augustine provides a famous example in Confessions XI, 
when he says, "What is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish 
to explain it to someone who asks, I do not know." Philosophy 
consists largely in asking these questions about what I already 
"know." Of course I know what I mean by "I," "self," "being," 
"real," "mind," "matter," "change," "time," "thing," and so on. 
That is, if no one asks me, I know; I simply inhabit their obvious- 
ness, their commonplace-ness. This kind of obviousness, however, 
is really a very derivative realm; it is a realm in which assump- 
tions, conceptual and hnguistic schemes, objectified systems of 
thought, social and cultural custom, have interposed themselves 
between reflection and original experience. What I know is what 
"everybody knows," and hence what nobody really knows. 

When, therefore, the philosopher withdraws from the "obvious" 
of the commonplace, he does so in order to restore himself to the 
freshness of existence as it actually wells up in its perpetually 
renewed origin. It is this obvious towards which he moves in 
wonder. He is trying to think existence primordially. It is always 
there to be thought, always powerfully and overwhelmingly there, 
always giving itself to thought, but always not yet thought. And 
thus, the philosopher feels man to be, as Heidegger has said, the 
"strangest" of beings, nearest and farthest from the secret of 

Now this condition of the philosopher should not be taken as a 
misfortune. Rather it is a privilege. Socrates' position is not really 
as contrary to Aristode's as it might seem. Granted that all men 
by nature desire to know, perhaps the first step towards the kind 
of knowledge that Aristotle had in mind is the Socratic realization 
that we do not yet know — ^that the world of the everyday is a 
realm of seeming knowledge. 

Perhaps every advance into philosophical knowledge remains 

4 Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans, by Ralph 
Manheim (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1959), pp. 146-151. 

6 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

tributary to man's experience of himself as the strangest of beings. 
This experience may even be, as we shall see, itself a kind of 
knowledge, perhaps the highest kind. What is clear, at any rate, is 
that the desire for philosophical knowledge of which Aristotle 
spoke cannot be pursued in the attitude of the commonplace 
within which everyday thought operates. The element of wonder 
before the mystery of existence is a constituent of the philosophical 
question and no philosophical knowledge is possible except in 
function of that wonder. 

Philosophy does not consist so much in a set of formulated 
answers as it does in the entering into a certain kind of question. 
Philosophy is the awakening out of acceptance, just as Plato 
emphasized for his own purposes in the myth of the cave.^ It is 
the turning away from what "everybody knows" towards the real 
as it is dehvered to my lived consciousness. Wonder, then, has this 
strange double-aspect of placing me before my experience, yet 
placing me before it as something altogether strange. 

From this point of view, it might be said that the philosophy 
of knowledge is co-extensive with philosophy. The search to 
explore and express the richness of reality is always concomitandy 
an effort to decide what I know in any given area. Philosophy is 
essentially reflection. And reflection is essentially critical. I cannot, 
therefore, have a metaphysics which is not at the same time an 
epistemology of metaphysics; nor a psychology which is not an 
epistemology of psychology; nor even, for that matter, a science 
which is not an epistemology of science. That is, every philosophi- 
cal science (and indeed, every science of any kind) when fuUy 
constituted and ideaUy achieved would contain a built-in episte- 
mology in the sense of a critical reflection upon the status of its 
own assumptions, procedures, and conclusions. 

In another sense, however, there is a real point in treating 
epistemology as itself a special manifestation of the philosophical 
quest. In this sense, the enterprise of Descartes, of which we shall 
speak in the next chapter, introduces a radically new epoch in the 

5 Republic, Bk. VII. 

The Status of Knowing 7 

history of thought. For it represents the stage at which philosophi- 
cal wonder makes itself its own object. Now instead of simply 
wondering at the reahty of change or time or self, philosophy 
wonders at knowing itself. Man's question turns back upon itself. 
A new era begins in which he makes his own search to know the 
object of a further search: how do I know that I can know? By 
what right do I question? Perhaps my wonder has no right to exist 
— ^perhaps it is useless, and I am forever shut off from the reahty 
I seek to know. With this question, philosophy may be considered 
to come into possession of its own essence, for it would seem that 
there is nowhere further to go. 

With the Greeks and the Medievals, thought stretches beyond 
the taken-for-granted in the object towards the really real. With 
Descartes and the moderns, thought seeks to surpass the taken- 
for-granted which might be part and parcel of thought itself, to 
allow its own pellucid light to appear to itself. At this stage the 
general problem of knowledge emerges as a separate pre-occupa- 
tion: knowledge becomes problematic to itself. 


The historical movement of reflective thought which culminates 
in the emergence of the separate problem of knowledge can be 
analytically retraced. At the initial phase of both historical and 
analytical processes is the situation in which common sense finds 
itself. The posture of common sense is a confident one mainly 
because it is an uncritical one. The "man in the street" (which 
is not the name for a special plebeian brand of human, but simply 
means everyone when he is not dehberately philosophizing) finds 
himself in possession of a large stockpile of items of knowledge, 
about which he is securely certain and which he would think it 
frivolous to question. Maritain is no doubt right when he points 
out^ that this store of common-sense beliefs is a mixed one, com- 
prising on one level such primary insights as the principle of non- 

* Jacques Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge, trans, by Gerald B. 
Phelan (New York: Scribner), 1959, pp. 82-84. 

8 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

contradiction, but reaching down through many more dubious 
social convictions to a grab bag of intellectual remnants. What all 
the various levels have in common is that they contain items of 
knowledge which the possessor regards as a terminus and in which 
his thought comes to rest. 

Common sense thinks it knows lots of things: I exist; I have a 
body; I have a past, with which I am in contact through my 
memory; my five senses put me in touch with an external world 
which is outside me and independent of me, but which I can 
understand as it is in itself; other men exist — there is experience 
beyond my experience; there is a past of humanity, history; I am 
certain of various moral and pohtical principles by which I live 
and conduct myself in respect to the rest of humanity; and so 
forth. The last item, however, suggests what is too easUy over- 
looked, that "common sense" has an historical and cultural coefii- 
cient: much of what was perfectly plain to the Greek mind in the 
age of Hesiod is so much nonsense to the modern democratic man. 
Once this is reaUzed, we walk more warily in describing the men- 
tal condition of common sense as "certitude." 

Common sense is well aware that it is often deceived, that mis- 
takes are possible. Optical illusions, errors in judging distance or 
color, and such total vagaries as hallucinations are common 
enough. Yet common sense does not use the existence of these 
erroneous beliefs to question the status of its true beliefs. A man 
may be very frequently deceived, but until he utilizes his deceptive 
experience to call the nature of his veridical experience into ques- 
tion, he is still comfortable within the confines of common sense. 

For that reason, the modern man is not completely at home in 
the posture of common sense. For the discoveries of science do not 
aUow him to let them merely coexist with his beliefs about the 
reahty of his famihar world. Once he has "learned" from science 
that the world as it is out there by itself is a swirl of atoms, he 
cannot help being puzzled as to how this world fits with his own 
perceptual picture. He sees colors, hears sounds, feels warmth and 
cold. But apparently in the universe that science investigates these 
don't "really exist." Then he inevitably is driven to wonder about 

The Status of Knowing 9 

the status of the things he does perceive. Are they inside his head, 
a mere private universe, quite different from nature as it really is? 

Once this distinction between appearance and reality has 
wedged its way into consciousness, it need not stop at factual dif- 
ficulties. For in grasping this distinction, consciousness grasps 
itself as a subject distinct from the objects of its knowing, and then 
is tumbled into the whole radical diflBculty of how it can ever be 
sure that it has reached the real object and not simply an apparent 
object. If knowledge aspires to see things as they really are, how 
do we know we have reached things as they really are? In fact, 
how do I know that I am not totally confined to appearances, and 
that there is anything at all beyond appearances? 

Just here is where epistemology is not only possible but neces- 
sary. A thought which has reached this stage of reflection cannot 
be satisfied by a return to the unreflecting assurances of common 
sense, but must press forward to a new plane. The certainty which 
epistemology now seeks is made possible by a doubt — it is a cure 
for a doubt; which is to say, it is essentially reflective. Every one of 
the assertions of common sense can be summoned before the 
reflective question. When epistemology settles or allays these 
doubts, we may get a reflexive certitude which is more entitled to 
the name than the incurious acceptance of the pre-philosophical 


The objection is naturally raised at this point that in acting thus 
epistemology is proposing a chimerical goal for itself. For, if we 
are to demonstrate the validity of our knowledge, we will already 
be making use of our knowledge and therefore already presuming 
its validity. Some, like Etienne Gilson, have therefore argued that 
there is no problem of knowledge, since the critical question can- 
not be consistently raised:^ realism, for them, is an absolute pre- 
sumption of thought, and any attempt to justify realism already 

^ Etienne Gilson, Realisme thomiste et critique de la connaissance, 
(Paris: J. Vrin), 1947. 

1 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

represents a concession, if not a surrender. For this position, 
knowing puts us in touch with the real, and that is the end of it. 

There is more than one way of responding to this objection. To 
begin with, we may start by acknowledging the positive insight 
contained in it. What it stresses is the unconditional attachment of 
thought to reality, and this surely requires stressing. The existence 
of knowledge, and the partial transparence of knowledge to itself 
is an ultimate and irreducible given. Thought exists, and the exist- 
ence of thought testifies to its own openness to being. No denial 
or doubt of this openness can be successfully carried through. 
That is why the position of the absolute sceptic is the most vul- 
nerable in the whole domain of philosophy. What the absolute 
sceptic contends is that man's mind is incapable of attaining 
truth — that we can know nothing for an objective certainty but are 
confined to the free play of our own subjective opinions. Unfortu- 
nately for him, however, the very attempt to express his position 
involves him in a denial of it. For he holds at least one judgment 
to be objectively true — ^his own. He holds it as objectively true 
(and not a mere subjective opinion) that man cannot know objec- 
tive truth; he is certain that he cannot be certain. The traditional 
accusation that the sceptical position is self-nullifying and literally 
absurd seems fully justified. 

No matter how he twists and turns, the sceptic cannot help 
implicitly denying what he is exphcitly affirming. Suppose he 
contents himself with merely doubting whether our thought puts us 
in touch with reality. Even so, he does not escape inconsistency, 
for this doubt of his is not a frame of mind in which he merely 
happens to find himself; it is, he maintains, the correct position, 
and he argues with me that I ought to give up my dogmatism and 
espouse his conscientious refraining from judgment. Yet to hold 
his position as "correct" or "right" is to believe that in this one 
case he has reached the objective state of affairs and seen what 
the proper response to it is. Even if he goes to the heroic length of 
remaining silent, of taking no position at all, still he does not 
escape inconsistency. For he has not lost the power of speech — 

The Status of Knowing 7 j 

his silence is not a misfortune but a decision, and a response. This 
is the way things are, he says in effect, and the proper response is 
silence. But what he is contending is that we cannot know the way 
things are, and so his silence is a testimony against his own view. 
Although the refutation of scepticism tends to sound negative 
(to tell us what we cannot do) it really has a positive consequence. 
For what it actually reveals is what Gilson insists on: at some 
level thought is unconditionally attached to being, attached in such 
a way that it cannot successfully deny its attachment. We thus 
reach the unconditional value of affirmation, when we realize that 
it is impossible to aflarm our inability to affirm. That is why an 
inspection of scepticism is very useful, even though there does not 
seem to have been anybody in the history of philosophy who 
could literally be called an absolute sceptic as that role is cast by 
epistemology. Not even Pyrrho or Sextus Empiricus quite measure 
up.« The relativism of Protagoras probably comes closest.® His 
homo mensura doctrine ("man is the measure of all things") is an 
attempt to limit the value of all aflBrmation to the one who makes 
it; just as what tastes good to one is not necessarily tasty to an- 
other, so, he says, what is true for one is not necessarily true for 
another. Regardless of the dearth of historical examples, it is 
instructive to state the extreme form of scepticism as one of the 
antecedently possible answers to the epistemological question as 
to the truth-value of my knowledge. Once we have seen the im- 

8 Pyrrho (c. 360-c. 270 B.C.) gave the name Pyrrhonism to scepticism. 
On Sextus Empiricus (c. 250 A.D.), the foremost of the ancient sceptics, 
whose Outlines of Pyrrhonism is the fullest presentation of the views of 
this school, see esp. Venant Cauchy, "The Nature and Genesis of the 
Sceptical Attitude," The Modern Schoolman, XXVII, pp. 203-221 pp. 

9 For the relativism of Protagoras (c. 481-c. 411 B.C.), see Plato's 
Theaetetus, 160-162; and for his ethical doctrine, see Plato's presentation 
and rebuttal in Protagoras. Another sophist, Gorgias (c. 483-c. 375 B.C.) 
is also the subject of a dialog by Plato, one of the most powerful state- 
ments of the ethical position of Socrates and Plato. Gorgias' threefold 
sceptical formula was: a) Nothing is b) If it is, it cannot be known 
c) If it is known, it cannot be communicated to others. 

12 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

possibility of adopting this answer, we have also seen that thought 
is irrevocably open to being. 


Allowing proper weight to Gilson's position does not entail 
accepting it wholly, however, for there is much to be said in 
rebuttal. We may hold with Maritain, for instance, that the aim of 
epistemology is not so much to answer the question of whether I 
can know, but to discover the conditions under which I can know, 
the extent and limits of my knowing. ^° This seems a proper defini- 
tion of the aims and scope of the philosophy of knowledge, and it 
does not involve us in any inconsistency. On this program, episte- 
mology does not vindicate my right to affirm, but it maps out and 
circumscribes the range of that right. 

Nevertheless it wiU not entirely do to stop here. While there is 
much justice in the insistence that reahsm is a presupposition of 
thought and that it cannot consistently be questioned, there is also 
something highly significant in the fact that men have thought it 
possible to question this "un-questionable." Maybe they have not 
been justified, maybe the question has not been a real question 
but only a psychological morass in which a confused mind found 
itself. But it is nevertheless a fact significant for epistemology that 
the kind of knowledge available to man will allow him to get into 
this psychological morass. Perhaps not every sort of knower would 
be subject to the extremes of sceptical doubt: the possibility of 
scepticism is therefore the revelation of something important about 
man's mode of knowing. 

Man can get himself into the plight which some epistemologists 
assure us is epistemologically anomalous, the plight of worrying 
whether he is not totally estranged from the truth, whether his 
mind's acts of "knowing" are not empty. This is not merely an 
academic issue, for man's desire to know is not just a matter of 

10 Maritain, op. cit., p. 73. 

The Status of Knowing 13 

disinterested curiosity, or a drive for formal correctness. It is a 
matter of existential concern. "What can I know?" is just another 
side of the metaphysical question, "What is?" or "What is real?" 
Here we ask "How far can I be attached to what is real? How can 
I assure myself of my contact with being?" Man's knowledge is an 
attempt to express to himself his attachment to being. The fact 
that it is the prey to doubt is, then, an ontological revelation of 
the nature of man and inevitably relevant to epistemology. 

Ontologically, the ground of doubt is in man's finitude. Unless 
man were the kind of being he is, he would have no epistemologi- 
cal problem. But because he is limited in the way he is, this 
limitation extends to his entire being, even, apparently to the 
knowledge which he can really be said to possess. Man is not a 
being with hmitations; he is limited being. That is, there are not two 
factors in man, one entirely being and the other a kind of limiting 
boundary — but even in the respect that he is, he is not. Man's 
whole being is shot through with nothingness; his knowledge arises 
out of that being, so that even where that knowledge is, one might 
say, quite "indisputable," the httle worm of nothingness can begin 
to gnaw on it. Let us say that we know that the world exists: but 
wait, and before long there flowers within that affirmation the 
blossom of nothingness and doubts: perhaps I am wrong, perhaps 
I am deceived, perhaps I am only dreaming. 

Without elaborating too far, it may be pointed out that the role 
of nothingness in knowledge is only one manifestation of a spectre 
which threatens man's being in various guises. Think of the role of 
death, time, separation from others, loneliness, failure, opposition 
to my will, sin, despair — all experiences in which the presence of 
nothingness is searingly felt. In keeping with more than one con- 
temporary philosopher, we may single out the modahty of time as 
especially crucial. For time, as the mode of human existence, can- 
not be regarded as negUgible to the understanding of human 

Man's knowing is a function of his mode of existing, and his 
mode of existing is essentially temporal. Man's existence is always 

1 4 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

not-yet-accomplished: he is the unfinished being, who is in the 
process of making himself, Man is not man in the way a stone is a 
stone or a table a table. These things are simply identical with 
themselves, complete, reahzed, solid, without a fissure in their 
existence. They are what they are. But as both Kierkegaard and 
Sartre agree in emphasizing, man is not what he is: he must 
become what he is.^^ To be a man is not to be a simple self- 
identity, in the manner of a stone, a table, an atom. Man's 
existence is open to the future because it is open in the present; 
man is not at any single moment identical with himself, in pos- 
session of his own being. That man exists temporally is not only a 
statement about an extent of time, but a statement about human 
existence at any moment of time. Man is a becoming which never 
at any moment coincides with itself: man is not what he is. Time 
is possible because man is not a simple self-identity but a being 
forever non-coincident with himself. 

If this is so, if man never simply "coincides" with himself, but is 
always other than himself, beyond himself, then man's knowledge, 
too, can never be a matter of simple "possession." Just as man 
does not inertly coincide with his being, so he does not coincide 
with his knowledge. Just as man's being is a perpetual becoming, 
an achievement, so his knowledge is a perpetual achievement, a 
prize ceaselessly rewon. Once we grasp in all naivety the truth 
that time is a real component of human existence, we will never 
be inclined to approach epistemology without reference to it. And 
once we cease to think of knowledge as something we either 
"have" or "do not have," as a static acquisition, many difficulties 
will appear in a new fight. K knowledge is a modality of human 
existence, then it is subject to the same limitations as that exist- 
ence; just as man is not what he is, so he does not know what he 

11 This is a continuing theme with Kierkegaard. It is the central subject 
of his The Sickness unto Death; see esp. the opening Hnes of this essay. 
See also Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans, by Hazel Barnes 
(New York: Philosophical Library), 1956, p. Ixvii. 

The Status of Knowing 1 5 

The pathos of human existence consists in man's struggle to 
surpass the nothingness in himself and to found himself in stead- 
fast being. So, too, the pathos of human knowledge is in its strug- 
gle to found itself um-eservedly in the steadfastness of certitude. 
I want unreservedly to be, and I want unreservedly to know. My 
effort to be certain is one side of my effort to be. I want to anchor 
myself beyond the nothingness of doubt. But every struggle to be 
and every struggle to know takes place under conditions which 
plunge it again into becoming. This does not mean that the whole 
process is futile, that the cynic's view of life or the sceptic's view 
of knowledge is justified. What it means is that epistemology must 
begin with a double recognition: human knowledge exists, but it 
exists subject to the conditions of human existence. One who begins 
by erecting a false ideal of knowledge as a set of objectified formu- 
las atemporally straddling the minds which think them, will tend 
inevitably either to a sterile and abstract dogmatism or to the 
abject frustration of the sceptic. That human knowledge is subject 
to the conditions of human existence cannot destroy its cognitional 
value. It is only because of our integral human existence that we 
know at all, and our mode of existence, which makes knowledge 
possible, cannot be regarded as a threat to it. 


For what, after all, does it mean to "know?" This is a question 
which many will feel should have been asked at the beginning, but 
there are certain advantages in postponing it until now. What is 
immediately clear is that there can be no question of a "definition" 
of knowledge, since to define something is to render it in terms of 
something else which is more simply intelligible; that is impossible 
in the case of what is itself simple and ultimate. Since knowing is 
an ultimate and irreducible event, it cannot be conveyed in terms 
more fundamental than itself. Synonyms like "awareness" or 
"consciousness of" serve some explicative purpose but cannot take 
us very far. What is, however, desirable, is to indicate the possible 

1 6 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

range of applicability which this word has, for this will prevent us 
from identifying knowledge with some particular brand of knowl- 

We speak of "knowing how" to do things (drive a car, type); 
"knowing that" certain facts are true (Columbus discovered 
America, two and two are four); and also of simple "knowing" 
by acquaintance (the location of our house, or the identity of a 
friend). These common uses only begin to indicate the diversity of 
possible significations in the word, since each contains a further 
diversity in itself and reveals various ambiguities to our inspection. 
We may be undecided, for example, whether the word knowledge 
deserves to be applied more to the one who "knows how" to find 
his way in a certain neighborhood because of a lifelong acquaint- 
ance with it or to one who knows how to read and follow a street- 
map of it; who "really" knows the route? Or we wonder whether 
the child's knowledge of the fact that his mother loves him is 
knowledge of fact or knowledge by acquaintance, and if we have 
difiiculty in classifying this and myriad other sorts of "knowing," 
we may eventually wonder whether they should even be called 

Many a man will decide in the end that only a certain variety 
of knowing is "really" deserving of the term knowledge. This is 
what Bertrand RusseU does when he reserves the term for the 
brand of knowledge available to the scientist and allots it to others 
only to the degree that they approximate scientific status. ^^ A 
milder form of this restriction might be the precept of Vere Childe 
that to deserve the designation, knowledge must be communicable 
in a symbolic manner. Thus, by definition, I could not be said to 
know something except insofar as it was capable of being embod- 
ied in an objectified form.^^ This is in some ways close to the 
familiar contention that the only real knowledge is that which is 
available to all and "publicly verifiable" — so that the face which 

12 Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge (New York: Simon and Schus- 
ter), 1948, pp. XI, 52. 

13 Vere Childe, Society and Knowledge (New York: Harper and Bros.), 
1956, pp. 4, 19. 

The Status of Knowing 1 7 

the world presents to the artist or the poet has no cognitional 
value, since it is not there for a neutral observer. 

In spite of the superficial plausibility of these contentions, it is 
against just such an unwarranted initial restriction of knowledge 
that the epistemologist must resolutely set himself. Paradoxical as 
it may sound, we cannot begin the philosophy of knowledge by 
deciding what knowing is and then discover what measures up to 
this definition. On the contrary, what is required is an initial 
openness to the multifaceted meaning of "knowledge" as that is 
discerned by critical review. We must hold open the door to the 
possibility that the ways of knowing may be multiple and that each 
of these ways may be thoroughly entitled to be denominated by 
the term "knowledge." 

This point can be put more strongly. Not only may the ways of 
knowing be multiple, it seems that we ought to expect that they 
be multiple. To expect that knowing would have one "univocal" 
or identical meaning is actually what is incongruous. The Thomistic 
philosopher especially ought to be prepared to see this. It is his 
doctrine of the analogy of being which prepares the ontological 
ground for this expectation. It is a fundamental premise of 
Thomism that "being" is not a univocal term, but rather an 
analogous one, that is, it means somewhat the same thing and 
somewhat a different thing in its various uses. The similarity 
which binds beings together and allows them all to be designated 
by the same term ("being") is not the possession of some uni- 
vocaUy or identically shared "property," but rather a community 
of resemblance. All things are ahke in that they are being, but 
they differ also in virtue of their being. Therefore, their mode of 
being makes them like every other thing, but also makes them 
different from every other thing. 

Now if there is an analogy of being, we also ought to expect 
that there is an analogy of knowledge.^* Whatever knowledge is, 

1^ L. M. Regis, O.P., Epistemology, trans, by Imelda Byrne (New York: 
Macmillan), 1959, p. 67. For a notable attempt on the part of a thinker 
in the Thomistic tradition to explore the analogical range of knowledge, 
see Barry Miller, The Range of Intellect (London: Geoffrey Chapman), 

1 8 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

and however impossible it may be to define it, what is clear is 
that it is oriented to being. // knowledge is to mold itself on the 
contours of being, it too must be analogous. If the being of 
person, stone, beauty, justice, thought, color, number is only 
analogously similar, then the knowledge which is the orienting of 
consciousness towards person, stone, beauty, justice, thought, 
color, number, must be analogously knowledge. To regard it as a 
shortcoming of our knowledge of another person that it cannot be 
expressed in terms satisfying to the scientist is equivalent to treat- 
ing a person and a scientific object as univocally being; to ask 
that beauty provide credentials acceptable to the neutral observer 
is to ask it to be what it is not. 

Man's knowing, as Heidegger rightly says, is a-letheia:^^ It is 
the unveiling of being. In as many ways as there is the unveiling of 
being, there are that many ways of knowing. Traditionally, episte- 
mology has tended to confine itself to sense perception and intel- 
lectual cognition, the latter being somewhat narrowly conceived. 
But this does not appear sufl&cient. Knowledge is the event by 
which human consciousness emerges into the hght of being. We 
cannot prescribe in advance how being is to be revealed. The 
proper initial attitude for the philosopher of knowledge is a kind 
of humility before experience, which is simply equivalent to a total 
openness. It is an attitude not unhke that which William James 
called "radical empiricism," and which he so nobly cultivated 
himself;^* or that which Jose Ortega y Gasset has referred to as 
"absolute positivism," which is not to be confused with the shallow 
positivism of those who arrogate to themselves this titie.^^ 

1961; the growing interest of modern Thomists in the questions of affec- 
tive and poetic knowledge, and in the cognitional import of value expe- 
rience, is indicated in the interesting first chapter of this book. 

16 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans, by John Macqarrie and 
Edward Robinson (New York: Harper), 1962, p. 256. 

1^ William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism (New York: Longmans, 
Green & Co.), 1912. 

1" Jose Ortega y Gasset, What is Philosophy?, trans, by Mildred Adams 
(New York: W. W. Norton & Co.), 1960, p. 125. 

The Status of Knowing 1 9 

Philosophy, the effort of reflective thought to let experience 
recognize itself, must not commit the mistake of trying to stuff 
experience into cubby-holes prepared in advanced. The proper 
task of the philosopher is not to begin by denying cognitive value 
to any dimension of experience, but to seek to discern what modu- 
lation occurs in the term knowledge as it is applied in various 
realms. Knowledge may mean one thing in science, and another 
in history, metaphysics, moral experience, art, interpersonal 
knowledge. Epistemology must reckon with this spectrum of 
signification, and not approach its subject too narrowly. 


Accordingly, even the tendency, common among Scholastic 
philosophers, to see the critique of knowledge exclusively in terms 
of an assessment of judgments may be misdirected. Its obvious 
plausibility lies in the fact that the claim of "knowledge" is 
closely tied to the fact of assertion (or denial). I may feel that I 
only really know what I can assert, and that the question of truth 
only arises in respect to the judgment in which I assert that such 
and such a state of affairs holds good in reahty. Such, in fact, is 
the basis for the famihar conception of truth as "the adequation of 
thought with reality." If what my judgment asserts actually holds 
good, then my judgment is said to be conformed to the real and 
ergo true. Until some judgment is made, the question of truth is not 
clearly raised. Experience, it is felt, is neither true nor false, but 
simply is; concepts (green, grass) as separate apprehensions are 
neither true nor false but simply grasps of realizable meanings. 
But judgments assert something ("The grass is green.") and are 
either true or false in their assertion. 

Now, while there is not the slightest doubt that judgment plays 
an extremely crucial role in human cognition, it stUl remains true 
that the problem of knowledge should not be equated with the 
problem of the truth-value of judgments. Knowledge is no doubt 
intimately linked to expression, and expression normally finds its 

20 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

utterance in judgment, but epistemology is really concerned with 
the question of the ground of judgment. The truth-value of judg- 
ments is really decided in terms of evidence, and the real pre- 
occupation of epistemology is with the question of evidence. This 
question is wider than the question of judgment. It is even possible 
that there may be a real sense to saying that I know more than I 
can express in judgment. ' 

Thomistic philosophers are, in effect, conceding this in their 
discussion of "connatural knowledge."^® Connatural knowledge is 
knowledge which arises because of an affinity of the knower for 
the realm about which he judges. For example, the artist knows 
what is right in a picture even though he has not studied aesthetics; 
or the good man knows virtue in a manner distinct from that of 
the ethical theorist. But this means that there is an evidence avail- 
able to the artist and the good man which is lacking to the 
theoretical knower, and therefore the epistemological question of 
the value of judgment is really a question of the admissibility of 
evidence. We can go further: the wife's knowledge of her hus- 
band's love is expressed in her whole life and not merely in the 
occasional explicit judgments in which it might crystallize. Could 
there even be kinds of knowledge which we could not even express 
in judgments at all? Such might be the poet's knowledge of nature, 
the poHtical hero's knowledge of his own calling, or the lived 
knowledge of the body in perception. 

As soon as attention is turned from the judgment to the evi- 
dence upon which it is reared, any overly narrow preoccupation 
with the form of thought is left behind. The question of evidence 
is not simply a question of predicating concepts of sense-particu- 
lars. It is a question of the emergence-to-view of dimensions of 
the real. And this emergence may easily overflow the bounds we 
have habitually set for cognition. There is a constant tendency to 
treat ideas, judgments, and reasoning as cognitive and other facets 
of experience as cognitionally irrelevant. But as Gabriel Marcel, 

IS On connaturality, see Miller, op. cit., chapt. 7; and Jacques Maritain, 
The Range of Reason (New York: Scribner), 1961, pp. 22-29. 

The Status of Knowing 2 1 

among others, has brought home to us, we need only think of the 
revelatory role of love or of hope to see the artificiality of these 
divisions. ^^ Love can be a principle of knowledge, an instrument 
of vision. Far from being irrelevant to the question of knowledge, 
love can be the means by which a certain kind of knowing can 
occur. One who loves another person, knows him better than one 
who does not. Perhaps the reahty of another is only fully there 
for one who loves him. And conversely, my love for another per- 
son can open the possibility of a kind of self-knowledge which 
would otherwise be inaccessible to me. One who does not love 
another may not know himself. 

None of what is said here can be taken as anything more than 
tentative and propaedeutic, for clearly these truths, if they are 
truths, need considerable buttressing. They are only advanced by 
way of anticipation at this point, and in order to set the tone for 
the most appropriate mood to undertake the critique of our 
knowing. There is every reason to think that the judgment occu- 
pies a special place in human knowledge, and to a large extent it 
is true that epistemology must pay special attention to it. But it 
must be seen as included within the question of evidence. And 
further, the judgment itself must not be conceived after the fashion 
of a pure logician or grammarian. The judgment is the expression 
of the self's assimilation of reality. It cannot really be appreciated 
apart from the total dynamism of the subject by which reality is 
revealed to me. A conviction of this will prevent any premature 
impoverishment of experience on the part of the epistemologist, 
and it will also prescribe the method he will follow in his critical 

This question of method is the last introductory point and 
should not need laboring. The philosophy of knowledge, as the 
attempt to assess the cognitive worth of experience, ought not to 
be overburdened with the paraphernalia of technical terminology, 
nor with the elaborate presuppositions of any philosophical 

19 Gabriel Marcel, Homo Viator, trans, by Emma Crauford (Chicago: 
Henry Regnery Co.), 1951. 

22 The Philosophy of Knowledges 

system. It should look as directly as possible to experience and it 
should use ordinary language. This is not to say that it can ever 
succeed in being without presuppositions, since even ordinary lan- 
guage embodies theoretical categories. But it will avoid approach- 
ing its task with a thought-schema already consciously prepared; 
to do this would be to insert that schema between reflection and 
the reahty it is seeking to reach. 

Russell's acceptance of the normative character of scientific 
knowledge commits this fallacy, for not only does it tend to exempt 
this knowledge from critical review but it casts the shadow of the 
"taken-for-granted" across the whole of human experience and 
hides it from our reflective gaze. The same charge may be levelled 
at the admirable work of Louis Regis, who carries on his episte- 
mological review within a fuUy constituted framework of Thomistic 
categories. ^° In order to survey knowledge, we must comprehend 
it, Regis holds, against the prior comprehension of the meaning of 
immanent action, the distinction of act and potency, matter and 
form, substance and accident, and so forth. This will not do. It 
immediately turns us away from experience towards interpretation. 
Likewise, Frederick Wilhelmsen's propensity for approaching the 
subject in a strenuously psychological manner and mingling the 
explanation of the what of knowledge with the how (couched in 
the Thomistic language of species, intentions, immaterial forms, 
and so forth) blunts his epistemological point. ^^ Right, here, seems 
to lie on the side of those like Femand van Steenberghen who 
stress the need of epistemology to build all analyses on a descriptive 
method and to confine itself to non-technical terminology.^- If 
Georges van Riet is correct, it is useless to search the pages of 
St. Thomas for a solution to the epistemological problem, for this 
problem did not exist for St. Thomas. ^^ 

20 Regis, op. cit., pp. 151ss. 

21 Frederick D. Wilhelmspn, Man's Knowledge of Reality (Englewood 
Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall), 1956. 

22 Femand van Steenberghen, Epistemology, trans, by Rev. Martin Flynn 
(New York: Jos. Wagner), 1949, pp. 22-25. 

23 Georges van Riet, L'epistemologie thomiste (Louvain: Editions de 
rinstitut Superieur de Philosophic), 1946, p. 636. 

The Status of Knowing 2 3 

On the same general terms, it is not too fruitful to answer the 
epistemological problem in language and categories borrowed 
exclusively from St. Thomas, for these categories were discovered 
in answer to quite different purposes, either metaphysical or psy- 
chological. It is unlikely that St. Thomas would continue to 
address himself to the question with an excessive reliance on these 
terms if he were alive today. If we are to justify the existence of 
epistemology as a separate and independent inquiry, we ought to 
cultivate a deliberate independence of a terminology which may be 
illuminating in other directions, but is apt to be blinding here. By 
the time we get through mastering typical technical notions, we 
have left the freshness of experience far behind; at length, instead 
of dealing with existence as it gushes pristinely forth, we find our- 
selves closeted with brochures describing it at third hand. What- 
ever price may be paid in foregoing the precision which technical 
language can provide, it seems to be compensated by our avoid- 
ance of the airless atmosphere to which it confines us. 



With the refutation of absolute scepticism, epistemology only 
stands at the threshold of its philosophical undertaking. For to say 
that we cannot doubt the capacity of the human mind to attain 
truth (its openness to reality) is not the same as saying that we 
cannot doubt anything that common sense is "sure" of. A mitigated 
scepticism, far from being absurd, is rather the first counsel for 
fruitful reflection. Error exists. This means that one datum with 
respect to human knowledge is that it is capable of co-existing 
with error. Not all of our knowledge is on equally firm footing. 
Therefore, the critical enterprise in which epistemology undertakes 
to review the value of our habitual knowledge can be construed as 
an attempt to discriminate between what is solid and what is 
fragile in our common-sense convictions. The difficulty is, how- 
ever, to find a criterion in terms of which this discrimination can 
be made. What is the hallmark of well-grounded knowledge which 
will serve to distinguish it from spurious "knowledge?" 

One of the most radical and ingenious attempts to answer this 
question was that made by Rene Descartes.^ Descartes conceived 
the plan of using doubt to overcome doubt. One way of deciding 
what is unconditionally certain and indubitable is to see how much 
can be doubted. If we systematically attempt to call into doubt as 
much of our knowledge as we possibly can, we will eventually 

1 1596-1650. i 

The Critical Doubt 25 

reach a point that is impervious to doubt, and then our knowledge 
can be built on the bedrock of absolute certitude. Doubt pushed 
far enough will eventually uncover what is indubitable, if such 
exists. His suggested procedure, which has the attraction of an 
uncompromising rigor, has been referred to as the "universal 
methodic doubt." It is universal because it will be extended with- 
out limit, or until it becomes self-hmiting; it is methodic, because 
it is a means which reflective philosophical thought utilizes as a 
method of attaining truth; it is a doubt, not in the sense of a lived 
quandary, but as a calling-into-question performed by thought. 

Sometimes Descartes' starting-point is mistakenly regarded as a 
version of absolute scepticism but actually he is at the precisely 
opposite pole to scepticism. What the sceptic wonders about is 
whether we can attain any truth; what Descartes wonders about is 
why we should ever fail to attain truth. For him the problem of 
the philosophy of knowledge is not how we can know but why we 
should ever fall into error. Error is a scandal for thought. There is 
no question for Descartes that the mind is capable of attaining 
truth; he had probably as much confidence in the capacity of 
thought as any man who ever Uved, and his procedure could with 
more accuracy be regarded as that of a rationahst than that of a 
sceptic. He is so convinced that the mind ought to be reaching 
truth that error becomes a complete anomaly for him. And it 
would not be too hard to see error as Descartes saw it. For we 
must remember that error is quite a different thing from ignorance, 
which is merely not-knowing. It is easy to see that a hmited 
thought might be ignorant of many things; it might not see them. 
That presents no pressing problem. But error does not consist in 
failing to see something; it consists in thinking I know what I do 
not know, or in thinking I do not know what I know. 

Once this incongruity dawns on us, we will be arrested by the 
paradoxical character of error. As a comparison: If I were asked, 
"Do you see the book on the table from where you are sitting?'* 
I would answer either "Yes, quite easily," or "No, I can't see it 
from here." In the first case I would be seeing, in the second not 

26 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

seeing; the first case would be analogous to knowledge, the second 
to ignorance — but neither would entail error. But surely a man 
who is seeing something knows that he is seeing it, and one who is 
not seeing something knows that he is not seeing it. Therefore, how 
is error even possible? The same situation is repeated whatever 
kind of "seeing" is involved. If I really "see" the answer to an 
algebraic problem, I have solved it and know the answer; if I 
can't figure it out, I do not know the answer. In the first case 
I have knowledge, in the second ignorance — in neither case do I 
have error. If I really see the correctness of philosophical reason- 
ing, I assent to its conclusions; if I do not see it, I do not assent. 
In the first case, knowledge, in the second, ignorance (not-know- 
ing) — but again no error. But obviously people do make mistakes 
in mathematical problems and obviously philosophers do disagree 
(which should not be, since disagreement implies error and not 
only ignorance). 

There is a spontaneous tendency to dismiss this dilemma with 
the expostulation that it is a pseudo-quandary; it is simply that we 
become inattentive or careless, and that we are not alert to the 
full conditions of the problem. Thus, a man who looks quickly 
may mistake a shadow on the table for a dark-covered book or 
one working out a problem may mistake a 3 for an 8. Error, the 
suggestion is made, intrudes because we go about our thinking 
rather carelessly. Now although from one standpoint this just 
pushes the whole problem back one step further (how can inat- 
tentiveness infect knowledge?), it is rather close to what Descartes 
himself was disposed to believe. Error is essentially inattention. 
But then knowledge is essentially attention. And one who wishes 
to avoid error and to attain unconditional knowledge, has only to 
rouse himself to an unflagging effort of attention. This is really 
what Descartes himself attempted to do. If I ask in respect to 
every one of the assents which I give to the purported "truths" 
which I "know," whether this assent is really justified, I am asking 
"Do I really see what this assent imphes that I see?" If I have 
the hardihood to withhold assent in every case in which I cannot 
affirm upon attentive inspection that the evidence to warrant this 

The Critical Doubt 27 

assent is really present to me, then I will avoid all the error which 
is caused by inattentiveness. 

All the other sources to which error is frequently ascribed are 
only effective insofar as they generate inattentiveness. Thus, preju- 
dice, pride, self-will, fatigue, combativeness, haste, emotion, etc., 
are only influential in giving rise to error inasmuch as they are 
the several ways in which the gaze of my thought is rendered 
inattentive. Therefore, if I demand attentiveness of myself, I have 
ehminated the real source of error. This demand is implemented 
by turning myself resolutely to the evidence upon which any given 
assent is supposedly based. Just so, the man who mistook the 
shadow for the book could correct his error simply by asking him- 
self "Now am I really sure that I see what I have asserted that I 
see? Let me look carefully and make sure." He would then turn 
reflectively to the visual evidence and banish his doubts. So it 
ought to be with all errors, in Descartes' estimation. If we are 
inflexible in our demand that our assent be withheld except in 
those cases in which we can be sure that the evidence is present, 
we will never go wrong. 

To be sure of this presence of the evidence, Descartes suggests 
that we need only to ask, "Is there any possible basis for doubt 
that things might be otherwise than I assert?" Let me make the 
active effort to doubt that the evidence is really there, and I will 
be able to underwrite my assent unconditionally, if it deserves it. 
Thus, "How much can I really know?" is a question which can 
only be answered after I determine "How much can I succeed in 
doubting?" It is in the rigor with which Descartes prosecuted this 
second question that his fulcral contribution to philosophy con- 
sists. For he carried his doubt farther than most men would have 
been prepared to carry it. Let us follow him through the successive 
stages of this doubt. 


We can begin with the dehverances of the philosophers of the 
past, for they are quite easy to doubt. They are, in fact, what 

28 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

started Descartes on the path of dubiety. As a student at the 
Jesuit college of La Fleche, he had received the usual training in 
Scholastic philosophy common to the curriculum of the day (a day 
now widely stigmatized as the decadence of scholasticism). To put 
it mildly, he was not impressed. The widespread conflict among 
the philosophers of the past caused him the same dismay that it 
has caused many a mind before and since. That there should be 
such a cacophony of voices on issues that mattered so much to 
man was distressing indeed. 

As to whether the conclusions of the philosophers could be 
doubted, the answer was clear: it is the easiest thing in the world 
to doubt what has been endlessly doubted by philosophers them- 
selves. Philosophical disagreement is a kind of mutual disparage- 
ment of philosophical evidence on the part of philosophers them- 
selves. The reason for the possibihty of such doubt was not far to 
seek. The philosophy of the past had been too ready to admit 
probable or merely plausible reasoning into a domain that should 
have been reserved purely for necessary insight. What philosophy 
seeks is certitude and certitude is only possible on the basis of 
coercive evidence; only necessary reasoning should have a part in 
the philosophical venture. Once anything else is allowed to partici- 
pate, we get the hodge-podge of plausibilities and implausibilities 
which philosophy had become. 

Nor was it one whit more difficult for Descartes to treat as less 
than certain the "knowledge" of the science of his day, since it was 
largely built on the shifting sands of philosophy itself. This, we 
must remember, would have been easier in a day when science was 
so largely dependent on inherited Aristotelian notions of physics. 
Let anyone ask himself how hard it would be for him to treat as 
less than indubitable the fact that there are four fundamental ele- 
ments, water, earth, air, and fire, that each of these has its "natural 
place" (that of fire being "up," and that of earth being "down") 
and he will at once perceive that the conclusions of science could 
not offer much resistance to the critical doubt. 

But surely, one may feel, there remains a whole set of ordinary 
beliefs that still stands after these speculative constructions have 

The Critical Doubt 29 

been swept away. Perhaps we might treat the rough laws which 
common sense makes for itself about the predictable and reliable 
behavior of bodies as only highly probable (as Hume was to do 
later), and perhaps we might fairly easily succeed in impugning 
the reliability of our senses which so frequently subject us to 
illusions, but still, that the bodies about which the senses and the 
roughly approximate laws speak exist and have their being inde- 
pendent of us, is not this evident? That other persons exist, whose 
life and consciousness are not mine, is not this undeniable? Or that 
my own past exists, my past which my memory retains and assures 
me of, how can this be disputed? But let us listen to Descartes 
himself on this score. 

He will admit that it seems unreasonable to doubt many things, 
"For example, there is the fact that I am here, seated by the fire, 
attired in a dressing gown, having this paper in my hands and 
other similar matters." But he goes on: 

At the same time I must remember that I am a man, and that con- 
sequently I am in the habit of sleeping, and in my dreams representing 
to myself the same things or sometimes even less probable things, than 
do those who are insane in their waking moments. How often has it 
happened to me that in the night I dreamt that I found myself in this 
particular place, that I was dressed and seated near the fire, whilst in 
reality I was lying undressed in bed! At this moment it does indeed 
seem to me that it is with eyes awake that I am looking at this paper; 
that this head which I move is not asleep, that it is deliberately and 
of set purpose that I extend my hand and perceive it; what happens in 
sleep does not appear so clear nor so distinct as does all this. But 
in thinking over this I remind myself that on many occasions I have 
in sleep been deceived by similar illusions, and in dwelling carefully on 
this reflection I see so manifestly that there are no certain indications 
by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep that I am 
lost in astonishment. And my astonishment is such that it is almost 
capable of persuading me that I now dream.^ 

2 Descartes Selections, edit. Ralph M. Eaton (New York: Scribner's), 
1927, pp. 90-91. All page references to Descartes are from this volume, 
and are from the Meditations. 

30 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

This is the famous "dream doubt" of Descartes. His point is 
easy to grasp. When I dream I seem to find myself among objects 
which are real, independent of me, and out of my control. And 
yet they are not real and independent of me. How do I know that 
I am not always dreaming, that the world which I believe to have 
its being outside me is not reaUy a figment of my imagination? As 
for my body, which seems so irresistibly real, the body which I 
inhabit in a dream seems equally real and is but the insubstantial 
wisp of fantasy. This is Prospero philosophising: "We are such 
stuff as dreams are made on"; or the mood of Schopenhauer, "The 
world is my idea." This is philosophy at play with a vengeance. 
But it is more than that. For it carries a melancholy note, though 
a muted one. For what expires in the collapse of the world into 
dream is not only the cloud-capped towers and the gorgeous pal- 
aces, but also the people in them: my friends, my beloved ones, 
the persons in whose reality I had counted myself blessed, are now 
figures met in a dream, not other than me at all but hollow pro- 
jections of myself. 

Yet thought still clamors for its rights. Even if I am dreaming, 
still there are truths which withstand the general catastrophe, 
truths which I can stUl affirm as unconditional. Two and two are 
four, whether I am awake or asleep; a square has four sides in 
both the dream world and the world of common sense. Is there 
any way in which the methodic doubt can break the defenses of 
such seemingly impregnable truths? Well, 

As I sometimes imagine that others deceive themselves in the things 
which they think they know best, how do I know that I am not de- 
ceived every time that I add two and three, or count the sides of a 
square, or judge of things still simpler, if anything simpler can be 

If I sometimes make errors in mathematics without realizing it, 
what assurance do I have that I do not always make errors? This 

3 Ibid., p. 93. 

The Critical Doubt 31 

consideration is somewhat weak, and Descartes, in seeking to 
reinforce it, now reaches the extremity of his methodic doubt. 
This is the hypothesis of the evil genius, by which he manages at 
one stroke to shake the foundations of every ostensible item of 
knowledge he has, includmg mathematical truths. Why should there 
not be some higher power who is toying with me for his own 
purposes and who causes me to be filled with all manner of base- 
less convictions? Perhaps I am even the only person in existence 
and my entire experience is phantasmagorical, a film of illusion 
projected by some power malignantly bent on perpetually deceiv- 
ing me, and to which no object whatever corresponds outside of 

I shall then suppose . . . some evil genius not less powerful than de- 
ceitful, has employed his whole energies in deceiving me ... I suppose, 
then, that all the things that I see are false; I persuade myself that 
nothing has ever existed of all that my fallacious memory represents 
to me. I consider that I possess no senses; I imagine that body, figure, 
extension, movement and place are but the fictions of my mind. What, 
then, can be esteemed as true? Perhaps nothing at all, unless that there 
is nothing in the world that is certain.* 

But what then? Is this equivalent to a state of paralysis? Is 
there anything that can escape this universal collapse? Strange as 
it seems, there is: 

But how do I know that there is not something different from those 
things that I have just considered, of which one cannot have the 
slightest doubt? ... I myself, am I not at least something? But I have 
already denied that I had senses and body. Yet I hesitate, for what 
follows from that? Am I so dependent on body and senses that I can- 
not exist without these? But I was persuaded that there was nothing in 
all the world, that there was no heaven, no earth, that there were no 
minds, nor any bodies: was I not then likewise persuaded that I did 
not exist? Not at all; of a surety I myself did exist since I persuaded 

4/fe/cf., p. 95. 

32 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

myself of something . . . But there is some deceiver or other, very 
powerful and very cunning, who ever employs his ingenuity in deceiv- 
ing me. Then without doubt I exist also if he deceives me, and let him 
deceive me as much as he will, he can never cause me to be nothing 
so long as I think that I am something. So that after having reflected 
well and carefully examined all things, we must come to the definite 
conclusion that this proposition: I am, I exist, is necessarily true each 
time that I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it.^ 

This then, is the rock upon which Descartes' doubt finally comes 
to rest: cogito, ergo sum.^l think therefore I exist. No matter how 
far the acid of doubt eats, it cannot consume that which is the 
condition for its own existence: the existence of the doubter. My 
existence as a self, then, is the ultimate indubitable which no 
doubt can eradicate. Even if I am universally deceived, the act of 
being deceived is an act of thinking, and it delivers up the exist- 
ence of the one who thinks and is deceived. 

Some clarification of Descartes' point is required. First of all, 
it must be noted that in respect to the content of the cogito, what 
is delivered to him is simply his thinking self. The implied com- 
plete formula is : cogito, ergo sum cogitans. I think, therefore I am 
a thinking being. What the cogito renders indubitable is just that 
which is necessary to constitute it as cogito — and this means the 
existence of a mind, a conscious substance. It does not guarantee 
the existence of a body. Quite otherwise. When he reached the 
cogito, Descartes was not at that point assured of the real exist- 
ence of his body, which might still fall on the deceptive side of his 
experience. It may be a body which only seems to be real, a dream 
body. Much more reasoning wUl be necessary before he can infer 
any other status for his body. 

5 Ibid., pp. 96-97. A remarkably similar point had been made by St. 
Augustine twelve centuries earlier in his dialog against the sceptics (Contra 
Academicos) . Let us accept your belief, says Augustine, that I am uni- 
versally deceived, and yet there remains one ineluctable truth: "fallor, 
ergo sum," — "I am deceived, therefore I exist." Augustine did not go on, 
however, to extract the methodological cornerstone of his thought from 
this truth, as did Descartes. 

The Critical Doubt 33 

But what is there from the beginning, given absolutely, given 
as the condition for doubt itself, is that I, as a thinking being, am. 
More briefly it may be observed that when Descartes speaks of 
"thinking," he is not referring exclusively to reasoning proper; 
seeing, hearing, feeling, pleasure or pain, willing, considered as 
conscious operations, are all included within this term. Even 
though the status of their objects may be in doubt, the conscious 
operations are not in doubt. Thus, the mirage of which I am 
(deceptively) aware may be unreal, but my act of being (decep- 
tively) aware of it is real. 

The objection is sometimes raised against Descartes that the 
cogito does not actually represent his only original indubitable, 
that it is actually the product of an inference, and therefore pre- 
supposes that the premise upon which the inference is made is 
antecedently known. What this objection supposes is that the 
"therefore" in Descartes' aphorism indicates that we are deaUng 
with an enthymeme, a suppressed syllogistic inference, which, 
expanded into full form, would read like this: "All beings which 
think, exist; I think; therefore I exist." Here both the premise and 
the rules for the syllogism are prior to the syllogism and the cogito 
itself would require the previous justification of both of them. 

This objection, however, is not well taken. The cogito is not 
reached as the result of an inference, and the ergo is not the ergo 
of the syllogism. What Descartes means is that my full personal 
existence is delivered to me in the act of doubting. I do not find 
doubt and then infer that there must be an "I" who doubts; rather, 
this "I" is deUvered in the act of doubting. It is not inferred, but 
co-immediately present; thinking is the ego in its manifestation. 
The awareness of doubt is the awareness of myself doubting. The 
ego's existence is therefore known intuitively, and not inferentially. 


It is apparent that the plight in which Descartes finds himself 
with the discovery of the cogito is not an entirely comfortable one. 

34 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

While it gives him an irrefrangible certitude, it does so at the 
expense of minimizing to a degree the scope of this certitude. For 
the subject which Descartes has uncovered in the cogito is a purely 
private, isolated subject. At this stage, he is certain of the exist- 
ence of absolutely nothing but himself as a thinking being. Evi- 
dently this is unsatisfactory, and he is faced with the task of 
making his way out to the world which is other than himself 
starting from a purely private ego. The task will prove to be an 
imposing one, not only for Descartes but for many a modem 

The difficulty must be stated in all sharpness in order for its 
magnitude to be appreciated. What is presumed in Descartes' con- 
ception of mental life, as this is developed in his mature thought, 
is that the data of consciousness are purely subjective states. This 
is implied in his abihty to conceive all the data of experience to be 
without self-certifying objective reference. Even if nothing what- 
ever existed besides myself, I could still have exactly the same 
experiences that I am now having; therefore the fact that I am 
now having these experiences does not prove that they exist as 
anything other than my own states of consciousness; therefore 
finally, since consciousness as conceived by Descartes does not 
have an immediate objective reference to anything other than 
myself, if such reference is to be established, it must be as the 
result of some kind of reasoning. 

What we have met here in a stark form is the problem of sub- 
jectivism. This problem is a formidable one indeed, since it 
amounts to this question: if all of my consciousness initially has 
the exclusive value of a subjective state of my own individual 
psyche, how do I ever learn the nature of anything other than 
myself or even rise to the awareness that there is anything other 
than myself? This question cannot be taken lightly, for in one form 
or another it is the question with which modern philosophy has 
been wrestling since Descartes. It is a question which arises in 
all its acuteness when we conceive of consciousness in a certain 
manner, the manner in which Descartes conceived it. But the 

The Critical Doubt 35 

problem is not only Descartes', since his way of conceiving con- 
sciousness is a way which will appeal to every human mind at a 
certain stage of rejflection. It is the outlook of those who are 
called "idealists," and it is therefore convenient to introduce at 
this point the familiar distinction between epistemological realists 
and epistemological idealists. The formulations of the position of 
each is deliberately broad, for reasons that will become apparent 

a) Epistemological reahsm holds that my consciousness puts 
me in touch with what is other than myself. 

b) Epistemological idealism holds that every act of knowing 
terminates in an idea, which is a purely subjective event. 

It is to be noted that the word "idea," from which epistemologi- 
cal idealism derives its name, does not refer exclusively or 
primarily to "universal ideas" or concepts in the strict sense. Any 
conscious undergoing of an experience is an idea, so that, seeing 
red, tasting something sweet, feehng a twinge of pain, being joyful, 
hoping, choosing, etc., are all ideas. They are data present for a 
conscious subject, in the opinion of idealists, "mental events." 
As mental events, they are modifications of an individual mind, 
and hence subjective. Epistemological idealism as defined above is 
hence equivalent to subjectivism. And the problem for a con- 
scientious subjectivism is unmistakable: if every act of knowing 
terminates in a purely subjective event, then how can I ever utilize 
my knowing to arrive at the existence of anything other than 
myself? And if I cannot, then how do I know that anything other 
than myself really exists? 

Now one answer to this question that is possible is that I cannot 
know. This is the reply of the position known as solipsism, accord- 
ing to which my self alone (solus ipse) exists — or at least I can 
only be sure that I exist, while the existence of things other than 
myself remains problematic. Obviously, solipsism, even more than 
absolute scepticism, remains more an hypothetical extreme for 
speculation than a genuine alternative. That is why nobody can 
point to any philosophers who have been solipsists. If really con- 

36 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

vinced solipsists have existed, they have, for evident reasons, never 
earned themselves a place in the textbooks of the history of 

The awkwardness of sohpsism is amusingly illustrated by an 
episode recounted by Bertrand Russell.* Russell tells us of a letter 
he once received from the logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd Franklin, 
assuring him that she was a solipsist and expressing surprise that 
lots of other people were not also solipsists! Nothing could better 
illustrate the academic character of this position — and yet it is not 
only useful but essential to take notice of it. For, granted that 
nobody psychologically and existentially could sustain a stance of 
solipsism, the problem for the epistemological ideahst or sub- 
jectivist is how, given his conception of consciousness, he can 
logically avoid it. If all consciousness is subjective, how can I 
ever be conscious of anything other than myself? It reaUy seems 
that a single-minded idealist would find great difficulty in avoid- 
ing, speculatively, the solipsistic conclusion. What actually hap- 
pens, as win be seen, is that those who begin by adoptmg an 
ostensibly subjectivist starting-point, eventually believe themselves 
to have discovered some feature of consciousness which is exempt 
from a purely subjective status and which also has objective refer- 
ence. Unless they were to do so, they would be perpetually con- 
fined to their own individual psyches. 


To call Descartes' conception of consciousness a subjective one 
is to oversimplify and to do scant justice to his thought, and in an 
attempt to present a rounded picture of Descartes, we would have 
to give a far better balanced exposition than the present one. We 
may offer the excuse that the present examination is interested in 
only certain aspects of his thought. That there really is a sub- 
jectivist peril in his approach, is indicated clearly enough by the 

6 Bertrand Russell, op. cit., p. 180. 

The Critical Doubt 37 

urgency with which he himself sought to escape it. If he had 
stopped with the cogito, he would have had merely the certitude 
of the solipsist, but no thinker is content to stop there. What is 
needed is an escape route from the cul-de-sac of subjectivism, and 
it is interesting to observe the route which Descartes took. 

He reasons that by a careful reflection on the first truth (the 
cogito) he will be able to discern what in it guarantees its truth 
and thus to use this feature as a criterion for further certitude. 
Why does he find it impossible to reject the truth of his own 
existence? Because, he tells us, he perceives it so "clearly and 
distinctly" that doubt is rendered impotent. But if it were thinkable 
that a reality which was thus given clearly and distinctly might 
nevertheless be falsely given, his certitude would be baseless. Then 
in the very recognition of the indubitabihty of this clear and 
distinct given is also contained the recognition that nothing which 
is given clearly and distinctly can be false. Accordingly, we "can 
estabhsh as a general rule that all things which I perceive very 
clearly and very distinctly are true."^ 

Needless to say, a great deal of criticism has been levelled at 
this procedure of Descartes, some of it misguided. It has often 
been supposed that this passion for clarity is simply a transposition 
into philosophy of Descartes' own fabulous skill in and admiration 
for mathematics. Whatever psychological justice there may be to 
this, it is not quite correct to equate Descartes' emphasis on clear 
and distinct ideas with a predilection for definition and exactitude. 
The somewhat unfortunate phrase refers principally to the evi- 
dential character of a datum, rather than to its exactitude; 
Descartes is concerned with what he elsewhere called the "simple," 
which others have thought of as the self-evident, the self-given, 
the luminous, the intelligible.® What he is continually emphasizing 

■^ Descartes, op. cit., p. 108. 

8 On this, see Norman Kemp Smith, Studies in the Cartesian Philosophy 
(New York: Russell and Russell), 1962, pp. 35-37. It is a fact, however, 
that his own examples tend to be rather abstract: "extension, shape, mo- 
tion, and the like." 

38 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

is the intuitive character of knowing: what I see, I see. The clear 
and distinct is that which shines in its own light.^ His stand is this: 
however much positive, non-derivative reality is contained in a 
clear and distinct idea, that content is real; the distinction between 
subjective and objective is suppressed, and thought reaches what 
has unqualified cognitional value. ^° 

The question is, do I possess any other un-derivative, positive, 
and self-luminous notions besides that of my own existence? 
Descartes finds another such idea in my idea of the infinite being, 
God. The meaning of this idea is perfectly luminous (clear and 
distinct). If so, it has, in respect to whatever positive content it 
contains, unqualified reality. This idea exists. There must be that 
in reality which sufiiciently accounts for whatever positive reahty 
this idea contains. But I am a limited being; therefore, I cannot 
be the adequate cause of my idea of the infinite. Nor can I regard 
this as an idea which I put together by combining other ideas of 
which I might be the adequate cause. No combination of finite 
aspects will ever give rise to a notion of the infinite. Rather just 
the opposite, for Descartes. The notion of the infinite is not really 
negative — it is positive. I could not even recognize something as 
limited unless I had a prior standard against which to measure its 
limitation." This is more easily seen in his conception of God as 
Perfect Being; perfection is the primordial notion and the recog- 
nition of the beings of experience as im-perfect is only possible if 
I possess the more fully positive notion of the Perfect. Then the 
only adequate cause for the existence of the infinite, perfect being 
is the infinite, perfect being. 

9 It is true that he conceived of a universal science in which all these 
"simples" or luminous insights could be linked by a necessary chain of 
intuitive inferences, in which all human knowledge could be welded to- 
gether, but that is not essential to the present context. 

10 Descartes, op. cit., p. 115. 

'^'^ Ibid., pp. 118, 139-142. Descartes' argument is a version of the onto- 
logical argument of St. Anselm, which has been accepted in various forms 
by philosophers like Leibniz, Spinoza, and Hegel, but which is rejected by 
St. Thomas and the Scholastic tradition in general. 

The Critical Doubt 39 

There still remains the question of the "external world." How 
do I overcome the doubt as to the real existence of material things 
outside of me and independent of me? To do this Descartes has 
recourse to two things: the nature of the perfect being and the 
nature of my sense experience. My sense experience is not a con- 
scious creation of myself. On the contrary, the data which present 
themselves to me in perception are often imposed upon me against 
my will and desire. As a senser, I am a receptive consciousness 
and therefore not an active cause. The data which I sense must 
therefore owe their existence to some cause other than myself. 
But why could not this cause be God Himself rather than bodies? 
As far as Descartes can see, such a possibihty is incompatible 
with the nature of God as a perfect being. As perfect, He is per- 
fectly veracious and cannot be the author of any deception. But 
I have an irresistible belief that the experiences I have of bodies 
are imposed on me by the bodies themselves, and there is no way 
I can extricate myself from such belief. If this belief were not a 
true one, if they were simply dream-ideas implanted in me by 
God, He would seem to be the author of a universal and invincible 
illusion on my part, and this is incompatible with His perfect truth- 
fulness. Therefore Descartes concludes: 

Hence we must allow that corporeal things exist. However, they are 
perhaps not exactly what we perceive by the senses, since this com- 
prehension by the senses is in many instances very obscure and con- 
fused; but we must at least admit that all things which I conceive in 
them clearly and distinctly ... are truly to be recognized as external 

We should not fail to note that Descartes' return of the external 
world to good standing is an extremely qualified one, and does not 
apply to all that common sense includes under the term "world." 
Since God would only be guilty of deception in the case where my 
convictions were invincibly erroneous, then it is only those features 

-^^Ibid., p. 154. 

40 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

of bodies which clearly and distinctly belong to them which are 
certified as objectively real. Which are these? They are those 
properties which "are comprehended in the object of pure mathe- 
matics." This means extension and motion. 

Whatever other features seem to belong to bodies either reduce 
to these or else lose the character of being clear and distinct. 
Such things as color, warmth, sound, pain, resistance, coolness, 
taste, and the like, are not so evidently properties of bodies that 
I am unable to dissociate them from bodies. ^^ It is quite possible 
to realize that these things are subjective experiences which I 
attribute to bodies but which do not essentially belong to the clear 
and distinct idea of body. The only property which so belongs is 
extension, and therefore the world which Descartes' veracious 
God has underwritten is a geometrical universe of matter in mo- 
tion. This is the source of the famous Cartesian dualism. It has 
now turned out that the essence of mind is thought, the essence 
of matter extension. Everything that is not real in the way that 
matter in motion is real, can only be real in the way that con- 
sciousness is. The repercussions of such a view are tremendous 
and multi-directional. Descartes' dichotomy cemented the mechan- 
ical view of the universe which made possible vast advances in 
science; but by treating the human self as a "ghost inhabiting a 
machine,"^* it raised the mind-matter problem in an extremely 
exacerbated form. 


For our purposes, it is not necessary to follow out aU the rami- 
fications of Descartes' thought, but only those which are pertinent 
for the philosophy of knowledge. The main question which must 
be asked is about his point of departure : has he correctly described 
human consciousness? We will not be overly concerned about the 

^^Ibid., pp. 116-117, 154 ss. 

14 Gilbert Ryle's phrase, The Concept of Mind (New York: Barnes & 
Noble), 1949, pp. 15-16. 

The Critical Doubt 41 

particular escape route which he found from his own subjectivist 
beginning, but about that beginning itself. Is Descartes' translation 
of the actual position in which human consciousness finds itself an 
accurate and adequate one? Is the first indubitable for human 
consciousness the experience of itself as an isolated and individual 

This question is a crucial one and upon the answer to it depends 
the rest of what happens in epistemology. In the philosophy of 
knowledge, everything depends on the point of departure. If Des- 
cartes is right in his point of departure, then we begin with him 
in subjectivism and then must decide whether he really overcame 
it, and if we think he did not, we must try to find our own escape 
route. This is what ensuing philosophy tended to do. If we wish 
to avoid the subjectivist diflficulty, we must concentrate on the 
view of consciousness which produced it. This is what contem- 
porary philosophy is doing. The question requires a full airing, and 
the entire next chapter will be devoted to it. 

Some brief consideration may be given to the specific language 
in which Descartes couched his doubt as to the objectivity of the 
external world, in particular to his "dream doubt." Descartes really 
does seem to be asking "How do I know that I am not always 
doing what I ordinarily mean by dreaming?" And yet if this is 
what he means, his question borders on nonsense. Our ordinary 
dream state is identified by comparison with our waking con- 
sciousness. We only know it as dream by comparing it with the 
consistent, organized, coherent world in which we are veridically 
conscious of ourselves and reahty. It would be hterally nonsensical 
to ask: how do I know that waking is not what I ordinarily mean 
by dreaming, because if it were, I wouldn't know what I ordinarily 
mean by dreaming. It makes no practical sense to wonder if waking 
is dreaming; if I could make a critical examination of my experi- 
ence in dreaming, it would cease to be a dream. Therefore, Des- 
cartes is not in the condition of the man who pinches himself to 
make sure that he is really awake; this man's problem is a prac- 
tical one which is soluble in principle. 

42 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

Therefore we should perhaps take Descartes to mean something 
a httle less vulnerable. This can be put as follows. Suppose the 
waking state is just as shut off from reality as the dream is. Not 
that it is a "dream" in the ordinary sense, but that it is as purely 
subjective in its own way as the dream. Then our plight could be 
expressed as a kind of proportion: just as dream image is to sense 
object, so sense object is to x. And even diagrammed: 

Dream imaee Sense Object 

^- as — • 

Sense Object x 

In other words, perhaps in relation to the "really real," the 
sense object is an illusion. Even this belief is not altogether precise. 
It might only be taken as emphasizing that there is something more 
real in a being than can be given to us by the senses, that sense 
perception is a pale and partial revelation of reahty. But there is 
nothing particularly new about this way of regarding sense percep- 
tion. Plato had done it long before Descartes; and in a way, any- 
one who subscribes to the superiority of intellectual insight would 
have to give some weight to it. Of itself this belief would not 
derogate the objectivity of the reahty given to the senses — it would 
only consign it to an inferior place. From one standpoint this is 
what Descartes is doing. He differentiates between the sensible 
and the intelligible at the expense of the former; his criterion for 
objectivity is precisely intelhgibihty (clearness and distinctness). 
He must then be classified among those who espouse Plato's dis- 
tinction between episteme (knowledge of the intelligible and 
necessary) and doxa (knowledge of the sensory and contingent). 
Thus far, Descartes is only distinguishing between the other 
as given clearly and distinctly to thought and the other as given 
obscurely and confusedly to the senses. Yet in the proportion dia- 
grammed above, Descartes may equally weU be taken as empha- 
sizing the subjective status of the sense object and not merely its 
confused character. The comparison with the dream, in other 
words, could be used to stress the purely private character of sense 
awareness. On this basis Descartes is claiming not that the objec- 

The Critical Doubt 43 

tivity of the sensed entity is obscure, but that it is not given at all; 
the sensed entity is just as cut off from the independently real as 
is a dream entity. 

But this would mean that our awareness of the reality of the 
other is purely a work of thought, and this view carries built-in 
difficulties. Even if we were to accept it as faithful to human 
consciousness that existence can be delivered to thought alone, we 
would immediately have the difficulty that an other delivered only 
to thought would tend to be an abstract and universalized other — 
since human thought is conceptual and abstract. Data which can- 
not be delivered in this abstractly intelligible manner would lose 
their objective standing. Existence thus conceived would be inev- 
itably impoverished, reduced to its most abstract character: on 
the one hand, a purely mechanical nature, and on the other, a 
purely logical subject. Descartes himself progressed quite far in 
this direction. Human experience tends to be rich in the direction 
of obscurity; the knowledge of Uved experience is quite obscure, 
and yet to sacrifice its cognitional value is to reap a doubtful 
advantage. The only way to avoid this danger would be either to 
make Descartes' criterion of intelligibility mean much more than 
it meant in his own hands (which in a way is what the phenome- 
nologists are doing in their expansion of the meaning of the 
"given") or to refrain from stating the original condition of con- 
sciousness in his way. 




Any evaluation of Descartes should center not on his methodic 
doubt but on the accuracy of his description of consciousness. 
Give or take a few nuances, the employment of the methodic 
doubt is inevitable in epistemology, for it is simply the critical 
method self-consciously used, and criticism is the business of 
epistemology. The real question is whether Descartes, in turning 
the light of criticism upon consciousness, has really succeeded in 
tracing its authentic outlines. Contemporary philosophers, who 
by and large disagree with the Cartesian viewpoint, concentrate 
their fire on his analysis of the structure of consciousness and 
the present chapter will follow suit. 

By way of preface, we may begin with an admonition which 
is elementary, but whose usefulness extends much further than its 
application to Descartes' thought. For, concealed at the base of 
all subjectivism, including Descartes', is a false image of conscious- 
ness which thwarts all attempts to break through to realism. This 
is the image of consciousness as a container "in" which reality is 
present. Only rarely, of course, would things be stated quite this 
baldly, but the attitude is operative even when it does not find its 
way into verbal formulation. It is a perfectly natural attitude, as 
is evidenced by our everyday manner of stating the relation be- 
tween consciousness and its object. What I am aware of, I am 
prone to say, is "in" my awareness; what I am not aware of is 
"outside" my awareness. Reality as present to me at any given 

The Point of Departure 45 

moment is "within" my consciousness. Sometimes we go on to say 
that it is "in my mind." And sometimes the image is pushed to the 
clearly untenable hmit of saying that it is "in my head." 

However spontaneously we may fall into this way of speaking, 
it is nonetheless ruinous. For, having posed matters in this way, 
I am stuck with the image and with its consequences. The conse- 
quences are dire indeed. For the briefest reflection will give rise 
to an inevitable question. If what I know is "in" my consciousness, 
then how does it ever allow me to make contact with what is 
"outside" my consciousness. My consciousness is my conscious- 
ness, a subjective occurrence in me; hence if the reality which I 
know is "within" my consciousness, it is within me, and my knowl- 
edge therefore leaves me locked up inside myself. 

There is no need to think that Descartes proceeded according 
to this explicit image (if he had, its shortcomings would have 
been more evident). The point is that his way of stating the prob- 
lem, his way of describing consciousness, is only possible if the 
image is implicitly operative in his thought. His problem is that of 
winning through to the "other," and certifying the varied status 
of the "other." This must mean that he does not regard the other 
as a primitive datum for consciousness, and hence that reality as 
present primitively to consciousness is not present as other but as 
"within" the consciousness of the subject: its credentials of other- 
ness have still to be verified. Many a modern philosopher has been 
trapped into a similar subjectivist beginning by this implicit con- 
ception of consciousness as a container. Once the image is identi- 
fied, it may be summarily dealt with. For if anything is clear, it is 
clear that we cannot seriously compare consciousness to a con- 
tainer or receptacle. 

To demonstrate this we need only contrast the manner in which 
a contained thing is literally in a container with the manner in 
which the known thing is "in" the knower. A literal relation of 
container and contained is a relation between two spatially exter- 
nal objects. When an orange is in a crate, it makes perfect sense 
to say that the orange is from one standpoint still outside the 

46 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

crate. That is, the orange is not within the wood of the crate; it is 
surrounded by it, but it is nevertheless still spatially juxtaposed to 
it. Orange and crate are touching one another, and hence exter- 
nally related: it is perfectly possible to mark off the hraits of each, 
to say just where the crate stops and just where the orange starts. 
Now obviously this is not so with the relation of consciousness to 
its object. When I am aware of the orange I cannot tell where my 
awareness "leaves off" and where the orange "begins." I cannot 
point to some point in space and say "Here I, as knowing subject, 
stop, and here the object as known begins."^ My awareness is not 
juxtaposed in space to this orange, not touching it, not outside it. 
True, my head and the orange are spatially related to each other — 
but this only proves that consciousness is not going on "inside 
my head." My consciousness does not stop at the limits of my 
head, at my eyeballs, or halfway between my head and the orange. 
My consciousness is not spatially related at all to the orange. 

This insight may be expressed in alternate ways. We may use it 
to bring out the non-spatial character of consciousness and the 
absurdity of talking as if the known object is "in" the conscious- 
ness of the knower. Or we may take the opposite tack and accen- 
tuate the interiority of known and knower. If we should Uke to 
continue to speak the language of "being in" here, we must recog- 
nize that this relation cannot be understood from the side of the 
container/contained relation, but that it is a totally sui generis 
interiority. The known is "in" the knower, if you hke, but to the 
limit of interiority — which is identification. The known object is in 
the subject in such a way that it is impossible to distinguish the 
limits of knower and known; the knower in so far as he knows is 
identical with the known object in so far as it is known. 

This is the line which Scholastic philosophy has traditionally 
taken, in an effort to emphasize the non-subjective character of 
knowing. Whichever way the position is phrased, and they are 
only verbally different, the fact remains that it is senseless to treat 

1 And this is so whether we are talking of perceptual consciousness or 
intellectual consciousness. 

The Point of Departure 47 

the relation of consciousness to its object through the distorting 
image of the preposition "in." This is no light observation, for 
many a philosophical problem has arisen just because of a philos- 
opher's inattentiveness to the trap set by his own language. If we 
realize that any problem which arises in regard to consciousness 
from the direction of this image is a pseudo-problem, we will have 
made a significant advance. 


As a matter of fact, much of the advance that contemporary 
philosophy has made beyond the Cartesian lines has consisted 
simply in reclaiming ground lost because of this image. Once we 
recognize that there is no problem of getting "outside" of con- 
sciousness, we have recovered an essential vantage-point. To be 
conscious is already to be outside oneself. We do not have to 
break through the container of consciousness, because conscious- 
ness is not a container. The circle of awareness includes the other. 
This is what various contemporary thinkers are saying in one form 
or another. 

It is also what the Scholastic philosopher has traditionally said 
against Descartes' epistemology. Here is where the counter-analysis 
of consciousness begins. Descartes' analysis implies that conscious- 
ness is primarily self-consciousness and only derivatively con- 
sciousness of the other. The primitive indubitable is the cogito- 
self, and I must infer by means of the intelligibility contained in it 
the existence of the other. 

Thomism has always held the contrary: the self is only known 
reflexively in the knowing of the non-self. If this does not precisely 
claim that the knowledge of the other is primary and self-con- 
sciousness derivative, it at least imphes that knowledge of self and 
other are co-temporaneous and indivisible. I only know myself in 
knowing the other. In the consciousness of the objects which my 
awareness encounters, I am reflexively aware of my own ego; but 
my ego is not a datum given in any sense prior to the object — 

48 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

neither temporally nor epistemologically prior. It is given along 
with it, and unless the object is given, the ego is not given. I 
learn to say "I"; and I learn to say "I" in distinguishing myself 
from what is other than myself. It is at least significant that even 
Descartes has to appeal to a hypothetical "other" in order to be 
the author of his own deception: the evil genius is the hypothetical 
other who causes me to be deceived universally. 

It is the standard view of the Scholastic authors that self- 
knowledge cannot be separated from knowledge of the object. In ' 
speaking of the mind's knowledge of itself, St. Thomas consistently , 
does so by regarding it as grasping itself as a potency in a certain ' 
order, the order of cognition. But, "Potencies are only known by 
reason of their acts, and acts by reason of their objects";^ hence it 
is clear that the intellect only knows itself in knowing its objects. 

For it is manifest that by knowing the intelligible object, [the intellectl 
understands also its own act of understanding, and by this act knows 
the intellectual faculty. ^ 

St. Thomas often reiterates this: j 


The human intellect ... is not its own act of understanding, nor is its 
own essence the first object of its understanding, for this object is the 
nature of a material thing. And therefore that which is first known by 
the human intellect is an object of this kind, and that which is known 
secondarily is the act by which that object is known; and through the 
act the intellect itself is known . . .* 

St. Thomas makes it clear that when he speaks of his mind's 
knowledge of itself, he is thinking of it as knowing itself as a 
capacity for truth; this implies that it only knows itself in knowing 
itself as this capacity for truth, that is, as the capacity for reaching 
the other. Unless it had already reached the other, it could not 

2 De Anima, I, lect. 8, n. 111. 

3 Summa Theologiae, I, q. 14, a. 2, ad 3. 
■* Summa Theologiae, I, q. 87, a. 3. 

The Point of Departure 4 9 

know itself as this capacity for reaching the other. This is unmis- 
takably implied in the famous passage from De Veritate, q. 1, A, 9, 

Truth is known by the intellect inasmuch as the intellect reflects upon 
its act; not only inasmuch as it knows its act, but inasmuch as it knows 
the relationship of its act to the thing, which relationship cannot be 
known unless there is known the nature of the active principle, which 
is the intellect itself, whose nature is to be conformed to things; hence 
the intellect knows truth inasmuch as it reflects upon itself. 

There is no question then of the intellect knowing itself as a 
purely private ego. It knows itself as an openness to the real, as an 
attainment of the real; unless it had reached the other, and thus 
transcended the status of a private ego, it could not know either 
the nature of truth or the nature of itself. 

This is a theme which many a contemporary thinker echoes in 
his own way: the empirical ego is never given in isolation from an 
object and can therefore never claim a more privileged status in 
being than the object. Edmund Husserl's notion of "intentionality" 
was originally put forward to emphasize this very fact: the nature 
of a conscious act is such that the act is a reference to another. 
It in-tends, or tends out to its other; the intelligibility of conscious- 
ness is its intentionality.^ In Husserl's words, all consciousness is 
"consciousness of." To be aware is to be aware oj something, and 
that of which I am aware has a status irreducible to awareness and 
is just as indubitably real as my awareness. A purely subjective 
awareness is not empirically verifiable; we do not have to win our 
way out from subjectivity to objectivity, for we never find our- 
selves within pure subjectivity. Do not forget that Descartes' 
cogito-self was an individual thinking subject, and that he claimed 
in effect that I can be indubitably aware of myself as an individual 
thinking ego without being indubitably aware of the existence of 
anything else. This is exactly what seems to be unfaithful to 
actual experience. 

5 And this in turn is a version of the older Scholastic doctrine of inten- 

50 The Philosophy of Knowledge | 

I do not discover myself as an individual self except in relation \ 
to what is other than myself. Consciousness is bi-polar: it is essen- ■ 
tially relational. To say consciousness is first of all to say self- ; 
aware-of-non-self.® Both poles are empirically given. Conscious- 1 
ness is given as this bi-polar relation. Then we cannot remove , 
one term of the relation without eliminating the relationship itself, j 
Descartes thought that he could call the existence of the objective , 
pole into doubt and still have the existence of the subjective pole, ,1 
but if the empirically given subject is essentially a relational sub- 
ject, this cannot be done. To attempt it would be something like : 
trying to eliminate convexity and retain concavity; the concave ;; 
and convex are two sides of one relation, and are not separately 1 
intelligible. Subjectivity and objectivity are two sides of one bi- 
polar relation and are not separately intelligible. 

In order to make his analysis stand up, it would appear to be 
necessary for Descartes to be able to give an empirical meaning 
to "ego" or "self" which excludes all reference to objectivity. If 
he is really thinking about the self of experience, then he should 
be able to point to this self in such a way that he is not simulta- 
neously pointing to the non-self. The trouble is that it is not possi- 
ble to do so. The empirical subject is not anterior to nor more 
indisputably real than the empirical object. I discover myself as 
subject by separating myself from the pole of the other; I come to 
consciousness of "self" by identifying it against "non-self." The 
"I" of experience is known reflexively by differentiatmg itself 
from the non-I. Therefore, in knowing a "self" I also know a 
"non-self" and hence Descartes' discovery of the "I" could not be 
a discovery of the self alone. If "I" means anything, it means it as 
designated against "non-I." 

Once again, we must remind ourselves that these remarks hold 
good against Descartes, for he believed himself to be talking about 
the empirical ego (the "I" as actually experienced), and not about 
some postulated Absolute Ego, which others have speculated to 
underlie both the subjective and objective poles of experience, and 

6 Although it is, secondarily, to say self-aware-of-self-aware-of-non-self. 

The Point of Departure 51 

to produce them both by an act never revealed to consciousness. 
This is the view of Absolute Idealism, and it makes little difference 
in assessing Descartes. The "I" to which he assigned privileged 
status was not the Absolute Self of Fichte or Hegel, but what you 
and I mean by "I" — this individual experienced self. It is entirely 
relevant, then, to urge against him the point that the empirical 
object is contemporaneous with the empirical subject, that the very 
meaning of the statement "I exist" can be understood only by 
contrasting the I with the non-I, and that therefore the absolute 
privilege which Descartes gave to the individually experienced ego 
is not justified. 


It is interesting to observe the manner in which contemporary 
thinkers tend, each in his own way, to surmount the Cartesian 
viewpoint. With Gabriel Marcel, the rejection of the cogito-subject 
forms one of the foundation-stones of his thought. He regards the 
cogito as an abstraction, a subject which is conceived as the limit 
of the evacuation of content from the experienced self — but not 
an existent. Man's being is a being-in-a-situation. This is what is 
empirically given; the only "self' that is ever vouchsafed me in 
experience is a self I find in this situation. The existential indubi- 
table is the self as incarnate in the body and as manifest in the 
world. The first moment of my experience is what he calls an 
"exclamatory awareness" of myself.'^ "Here I am"! — this is one 
translation of the fundamental awareness. And this "here" does 
not refer only to my incarnation in a body. No doubt it is my 
body which primarily sets me down in a world of real beings; the 
body is not even to be thought of as something which I "have," 
for I only really have what is other than me. "I am my body": so 
Marcel translates the limit-experience of my incarnate existence.^ 
But my being "here" means at this point of time, at this place, 

^ The Mystery of Being, vol. I, trans. G. S. Fraser (Chicago: Regnery), 
1951, pp. 91-92. 
8 Dm refus a I'invocation (Paris: Librairie Gallimard), 1940, p. 30. 

52 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

with these parents, in these cultural surroundings, and so forth. 
The only ego which escapes this placement is one which I think 
of; purified of aU empirical intrusions, the ego is contentless and 
empty, and therefore, in Marcel's view, inevitably tends to deteri- 
orate into something purely formal, as it did with Kant. Such an 
ego cannot be said to exist at all. 

What is given to me beyond all cavilling is the "I" of experience; 
but the "I" of experience is given as a focal point within an 
englobing situation, and hence the real indubitable is the "confused 
and global experience of the world inasmuch as it is existent."^ 
What is real is the altogether. The cogito is discovered by a 
retreat from the altogether; far from being the primary datum, it 
is a derivative construction and in danger of being a mere abstrac- 
tion. Pure subjectivity is contentless subjectivity; as existing sub- 
jectivity I am not pure subjectivity, but a being-by-participation. 
This is a key word in Marcel. I am not an existing subject who 
also participates in reality, I am not a being plus participation: I 
am a being-by-participation.^° My existence may have more than 
one level, but at every level it is participation which founds the 
experience of subjectivity. Marcel will not only distinguish a level 
of incarnation (actuahzed via sensation and the experience of the 
body as mine) but more significantly a level of communion, in 
which I come to myself as spiritual subject through my participa- 
tion in a communion of spiritual subjects. "Esse est co-esse" is 
true above all on the level of spiritual being: I am only an I in the 
face of a thou. The proper beginning of metaphysics, he says, is 
not "I think," but "we are."^^ The experiences of love, hope, and 
fidelity, which are the actualizations of my participation in com- 
munion are not intelligible on Cartesian terms. Finally, Marcel 
aUows that I am a being-beyond-a-situation, that my existence con- 

^ Metaphysical Journal, trans, by Bernard Wall (Chicago: Regnery), 
1952, p. 322. 

10 The Mystery of Being, vol. I, ch. VI. 

11 The Mystery of Being, vol. II, trans, by Rene Hague (Chicago: Reg- 
nery), 1951, p. 9. 

The Point of Departure 53 

tains a vector of transcendence; yet even here it is participation 
which is decisive. For the acts which found me as subject-in- 
communion are also the acts by which I experience the pull of 

Perhaps no one has carried the rejection of the cogito-self 
farther than Martin Heidegger or made a greater attempt to found 
philosophy on a new basis. The terminological obscurity for which 
he is famous is actually a consequence of his striving to express 
the totally unique mode of existence which belongs to human 
reality. Heidegger has in common with Marcel the conviction that 
the starting point for philosophy cannot be located within knowl- 
edge; that is, if the self is conceived along purely cognitive lines, 
it always tends to become a purely thinking subject and hence a 
world-less subject for whom the existence of the other becomes 
problematical.^- What is wanted is a recognition of the reflexive 
activity as appended to the profounder reality which Heidegger 
has named Dasein. Instead of talking first about knowledge, we 
should talk about the human reaUty through which there is the 
ground of the possibility of knowledge. Man is Dasein, there- 
being, the there of being, the being through which being is re- 

We should not pose man's knowledge as a problem of knowing 
the world, for man's knowledge comes to itself as the cognitive 
side of a being through whom there is world. There is no question 
that man's being is open to the world, for it is only his being that 
allows the question of world to be raised. As soon as there is 
Dasein there is world, for Dasein is being-in-the-world. This 
phrase is hyphenated, says Heidegger, because we are dealing with 
a unitary phenomenon. The world is a correlate of Dasein, and 
Dasein is this openness to the world. We should not speak as if 
there are two entities, alongside of each other, between which 
some relation has to be validated. ^^ The world itself is not an 
entity which can be designated as could an item within the world. 

12 Being and Time, p. 86. A full discussion is on pp. 78-90 of this work. 
^^Ibid.,Tp. 81. 

54 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

The world is a primary phenomenon, which is always there in 
its totality for Dasein; the world is a referential totality of mean- 
ing, and it is there in every relation of Dasein toward any and 
every specific worldly item.^* Every object which my action em- 
ploys incorporates in it a totality of meanings, the reference to 
which is already there for me as an acting being and which 
allows me to perceive this object as "something to be employed." 
This relational totality of significance cannot be discovered or 
verified within the world, for it is the world. Dasein always finds 
this world as already-here. And it finds itself as the correlate of 
the world. A world-less subject is never given. It is therefore non- 
sense for Dasein to raise the question of the being of the world, 
for this implies that it discovers itself as a world-less subject. 

Descartes did not have sufficient grasp of the uniqueness of the 
mode of being of Dasein;^^ he lumped it under the heading of 
"substance," treating it merely as a special kind of "thing" along 
with other things. He then had the problem of how this substance 
would make contact with other substances. But Dasein is not 
adequately grasped according to the notion of substance. Dasein 
is not a thing: "things" are only there for Dasein because Dasein 
primordially has a world. What comes first, then, is not a con- 
sciousness of things, nor consciousness of a thinking substance; 
but being correlated to world. Probably we should not even say 
that consciousness comes first, for consciousness always emerges 
onto a scene where Dasein and world are already correlated. Con- 
sciousness tends to translate this correlation into a cognitive rela- 
tion between subject and object, but it cannot be represented by 

14 Obviously "world" here does not mean the physical universe. We 
should take it on its own terms, or if analogs are needed, think rather of the 
way we talk about the "world of sports," the "business world," or the 
"political world." It is something like the most inclusive use of the term in 
this manner: Heidegger's world is "the world of all worlds." This includes 
the notion of a physical world, rather than being included within it. See 
esp. pp. 79, 92 of Being and Time; a full discussion is included in pp. 91- 
148 of this book. 

^^ Ibid., p. 131. 

The Point of Departure 55 

this means. Dasein ex-sists; it transcends itself, it is always outside 
of itself. 

All this is, ultimately, possible because Dasein is the bearer of 
the question of Being. ^^ Dasein raises the question of the being 
of the entities it meets because it itself is a transcending in the 
direction of Being. The "world" is the gathering of entities under 
the aegis of Being. The absolutely primary word is the word 
"Being"; the existence of Dasein is the speaking of that word, and 
in speaking it, Dasein polarizes the entities of experience and in- 
habits a world. Dasein, then, is not first of all a knower or a 
reflective consciousness, but a mode of existing by which the 
Being of beings can be revealed. To know oneself thus is not to 
be aware of an individual thinking substance. 

Jose Ortega y Gasset is yet another philosopher who breaks 
with the purely private self of Descartes. His fundamental concept 
is the category of "my life," and it is chosen because he feels it to 
translate the fundamental experience of human existence more 
faithfully than purely cognitive language and to bypass the maze 
which we enter as soon as we begin talking of "subject" and 
"object." For "life" is a border-notion. It is two-pronged and in 
no danger of giving rise to the subjectivist difl&culties about how 
I get "outside" myself. For "to five means having to be outside 
of myself."^^ Life is inconceivable in purely subjectivist terms, 
since it is a commerce or exchange between self and non-self. 
This is clearly borne out in biological life, although naturally there 
is no question of conceiving the meaning of the notion with pri- 
mary reference to this. Ortega simply insists that if philosophy 
wants to discover the most radical reality of human existence as 
its point of departure, it ultimately discovers the self as the dy- 
namic exchange with the other. 

1^ On this, see Being and Time, pp. 244-252. See also his Lettre sur 
I'Humanisme, texte allemande traduit et presente par Roger Munier (Paris: 
Aubier, Editions Montaigne), n. d., pp. 57, 59, 63. 

^'' Man and People, trans, by Willard R. Trask (New York: W. W. 
Norton), 1957, p. 48. 

56 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

I am not a "thinking substance," for having said no more than 
that I have not yet comprehended my mode of existence as I 
actually undergo it: a "substance" could be conceived as closed 
in on itself, completed in its own borders. But I simply do not 
experience myself in these terms. I am an out-going existence; for 
me, says Ortega (in words almost identical vdth Marcel), "exist- 
ing is first and foremost co-existing."^^ The world and my thought 
are in active correlation. The consequence of this, for Ortega, is 
that I am not able to claim that I know reality as it is "in itself"; 
the world is not my thought, yet it is not given as independent of 
my thought. The primary fact is not the self or the world, but 
myself as open to the world, or the world as delivered to my 
unfolding existence.^^ My life is exactly the clashing of these two 
cymbals. I may burrow into my consciousness as deep as I like, 
but I will never find anything more than my life; and my life is 
never pure subjectivity or pure objectivity, but always encounter, 
always the clash of the two cymbals. 

With these sentiments, Maurice Merleau-Ponty is in profound 
agreement. Against Descartes, he holds that human consciousness 
is not "self-contained"; no matter how deeply we penetrate into 
ourselves, we always find a reference to the other. =^° Nor is this 
relation to the other merely cognitional: it is a relation of being; 
it is a pre-conscious and ontological intentionality. For this reason, 
he also agrees with Ortega that it is futile to try to discover the 
world as it is "in itself." Revelation of reality is made to the 
human subject, and the human subject is always a situated subject. 
Specifically, it is a body-subject. Merleau-Ponty here uses prac- 
tically the same words as Marcel: we are our own body.-^ Reflec- 
tion seeks to discover the authentic lineaments of the real, but 
reflection is always upon the unreflected. The opacity present in 

18 What is Philosophy?, p. 208. 
19/6/J., pp. 197-202. 

20 Sens et non-sens (Paris: Nagel), 1948, pp. 143 ss. 

21 Phenomenology of Perception, trans, by Colin Smith (New York: 
Humanities Press), 1962, p. 206. 

The Point of Departure 57 

our finite and bodily mode of existence is never banished by 
thought: my knowledge is always conditioned by my existence, 
and hence when we speak of the real we will always be speaking 
of what it is as being-for-us. 

Obviously under these conditions it is also futile to try to dis- 
cover a "pure subject." My thought and my subjectivity are em- 
bedded in a situated existence: man and the world form the most 
radical sort of gestalt.^- The world is my field of existence and my 
subjectivity does not transcend my existence. My existence is 
bodUy existence, and my body is a dialog with the world. The 
cogito-self of Descartes is not something that can be pointed to in 
experience. It could only be pointed to if our thought were totally 
transparent to itself, but this is just what the obscure character of 
human existence precludes. The pure thinking subject could only 
come forward if thought could totally banish the unreflected, but 
this human thought cannot do. Actually, Merleau-Ponty will hold 
that even if it could do so, it would be contentless, since it is from 
the side of our existence that meaning originates. Our existence is 
an openness to the world, and meaning is the face which the world 
presents within the openness which we are. The subject enters the 
world as a question, and the world always has the character of a 
reply. ^ We are this questioning existence; the body itself is in- 
serted into reality as a living question. Therefore the self which 
discovers its own source in a questioning existence has discovered 
more than a subject. 

One of the most interesting of the alternatives to Descartes' 
point of departure is that proposed by Father Auguste Brunner. 
A purely private ego, he agrees, cannot serve as the initial indubi- 
table in the philosophy of knowledge, for it is not experienced but 
is simply an abstraction. On the other hand, merely stressing 

^^ Sens et non-sens, pp. 170-172. For an excellent presentation of this, 
see Remy C. Kwant, O. S. A., The Phenomenological Philosophy of 
Merleau-Ponty (Pittsburgh: Duquesne Univ. Press), 1963, pp. 64-69. 

23 Again for an excellent presentation of this, see Kwant, op. cit., pp. 

58 The Philosophy of Knowled^ 

being-in-a-world or "intentionality" is not sufficient either. The 
intentionahty of consciousness is also an abstraction; it is a pale 
and partial apprehension of the concrete reality which is really 
the primary conscious experience: the fact that I exist in dialog 
with a community of persons. Here is where Brunner begins: with 
dialog. 2* The self which reflection discloses is a self already 
involved in a dialog with other persons. The reflection which dis- 
closes the self has already disclosed the "thou," for the self of 
experience is an "I" in the face of a "thou" and never anything 

Even Descartes, after all, had to use language and should have 
recognized that language is essentially social. It is ironic that 
Descartes, in wondering whether perhaps he alone existed, used 
language to do the wondering — and that language is empirically 
not a creation of my private cogito-self but a bequest of other 
persons whose existence I am trying to use it to question. Lan- 
guage is clearly a border-reality; it is not the property of any 
particular self but exists on the frontiers of dialog. It is a phenom- 
enon of dialog. The first indubitable, therefore, is not that I exist, 
but that dialog exists. My doubt itself is framed by dialog, for it 
is framed by language which is a product of dialog. Empirically, 
I find myself within language. Therefore, the thou is already given 
to me. It is empirically given that language is not a product of my 
individual self; hence, if the individual expresses his own existence 
in dialog, he has expressed more than his own existence. Dialog, 
Brunner holds, gives me the thou as a primary phenomenon. It 
also gives me the existence of the world as that about which dialog 
is carried on: dialog contains the address of the "I" to the "thou," 
but it also contains the "other" of the "I" and "thou," to which 
dialog refers. The "other," the world, then, is met as a "third" in 
respect to which a dialog beween persons is held. 

24 The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy (St. Louis: B. Herder), 
1937, pp. 18ss. For a fuller treatment see Brunner's La connaissance 
huniaine (Paris: Aubier), 1943; and the exposition on Van Riet, op. cit., 
pp. 613-621. 

The Point of Departure 59 


This review could be prolonged, but enough has been said to 
suggest why Descartes' approach to consciousness is defective. It 
is not that he should be accounted wrong in his insistence on the 
indubitability of the "I exist," but only that more is contained in 
this certitude than he was willing to allow. In so far as the state- 
ment really asserts something, in so far as the "I" has meaning 
and is not simply equivalent to an empty "x exists," it asserts more 
than Descartes believed, for the meaning of the existing "I" in- 
cludes the reference to the other which Descartes felt required to 
go on to validate. 

Yet have we done something basically illegitimate here? Have 
we pretended to "solve" the epistemological question of the truth- 
value of our knowledge simply by assuming that in certain privi- 
leged cases it has such truth-value? The question is whether our 
awareness reaches a non-self. We seem to have answered it by 
listing cases where it does — and thus to assume rather than justify 
the truth of our knowledge. Or, to put the objection another way: 
Epistemology is an attempt to assess and, where possible, vahdate 
our conviction that we know reahty other than the self. Have we 
begun this assessment simply by the declaration that we do know 
reality other than the self? If so, why isn't this a petitio principal 

The difficulty is that the question of the philosophy of knowl- 
edge is itself based on the reahzation that in respect to human 
knowledge it is possible to make the distinction between appear- 
ance and reality. Once we recognize the possibility of this distinc- 
tion, however, there is a puzzle as to seeing how it can ever be 
surmounted. Do we simply declare that it is surmounted in this 
or that case and that is the end of it? Or do we search for a 
criterion which we can use to determine when it is successfully 
surmounted? This latter would be the search for the point of 
departure, which has been carried on since Descartes. We are 
moved to search for some kind of starting-point impervious to 
attack, in order to assure ourselves that our later conclusions will 

60 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

not be vitiated by a suspect premise. This urge of philosophy to 
establish its own foundations has driven certain thinkers like 
Edmund Husserl to an indefatigable and perpetual beginning-over. 
For the dilemma seems to be that if we begin with pure awareness 
as our basis, we seem to beg the question, and if we begin with 
anything other than pure awareness, we seem to introduce imme- 
diately the appearance/reality distinction, and to place awareness 
always at one remove from its object. Thus we may be thought to 
be condemned either to answer doubt by appealing to a place 
where it is already answered, or to make the answer to it impos- 

In reply to this diflBculty, one point may be briefly made. Per- 
haps the charge of "begging the question" is not entirely to the 
point in a philosophical arena. Somewhere along the Une, philos- 
ophy is probably inevitably going to beg the point. For instance, 
if we ask "How do I know what I think I know?" it is not really 
reprehensible to reply that in this or that case I really do know. 
For if the answer to this question is possible at all, it must already 
be present to my experience. Therefore, when I appeal to the 
privileged portion of my experience to demonstrate that in this 
case at least I really do know what I think I know, I am not really 
begging the question — or if I am, it is inevitable. The answer to 
such a question must either be already available or it is not avail- 
able at all. Obviously I cannot go outside of my knowledge in 
order to justify my knowledge, and so the ground for the justifica- 
tion of knowledge must already be implicitly present to my knowl- 
edge. And in calling attention to it, I do not commit a fallacy. 

Thus, in answering the question "How do I know that I am not 
the only existent?" I am not proceeding fallaciously when I say 
"I know it because I know that other persons exist." I am bringing 
into full focus a datum which is there, but whose obscurity has 
made the question possible. Somewhere along the line, any attempt 
to deal with the epistemological problem is going to have to as- 
sume some privileged instances where my knowing does put me 
in indisputable touch with reality (or it is not going to get an 

The Point of Departure 6 1 

answer at all). The only valid objection would be that a thinker 
has found this where it does not really exist. For example, if I 
were to make the scientific world-view the absolute beginning for 
my review of knowledge, if I were to treat this as an instance of 
where knowing achieved an original and primary contact with the 
real, it would not be hard to show that this was erroneous : for the 
scientific picture of the world derives from and presupposes a 
whole prior contact of my awareness with the real and cannot be 
used as an original justification of the truth value of awareness. 
Nor is there any initial necessity to think of the search for a 
beginning or for a privileged contact with the real in the singular. 
We cannot decide beforehand that there is only one such contact, 
for consciousness may in a plurality of instances reach a privileged 
datum in which the appearance/reality distinction is surpassed. At 
least, we have no reason for ruling out this possibihty. The begin- 
ning of epistemology does not have to function as a premise from 
which ensuing truths are deduced. Some tend to treat it in this 
way, which explains their anxiety to discover an absolutely un- 
questionable premise. The "beginning" of epistemology need be 
singular only if truth is delivered deductively; if it is the product 
of direct encounter of thought and the real, there is no reason why 
the encounters should not be multiple. 


The need to find a unified beginning is felt by the philosopher 
not so much because of the nature of knowledge as because of 
the nature of his own critical pursuit. He wants to bring the 
bewildering variety of questions with which he is forced to deal 
back to some kind of unity. He wants to see knowledge whole, 
and thus is driven to bring it back to its own foundations. The 
search for foundations is not actually a search for some privileged 
item of knowledge, but for the ground of the possibihty of knowl- 
edge. There must be something about knowledge which makes it 
possible to answer the question of its truth-value. Knowledge, 

62 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

which makes the distinction between appearance and reality pos- 
sible, must also contain the ground whereby this distinction is 
surpassed. It must, as knowledge, in its own foundations, already 
surpass the distinction between appearance and reality. 

Now, human knowledge is also complicated by other factors, as 
we have seen. Human knowledge is the knowledge of an existing 
subject, a being-in-a-world; it is the knowledge of a being which is 
not pure knower. We must therefore reconcile two things: human 
knowledge must arise out of existence, out of an extra-cognitional 
source, and must yet as arising out of that source contain the 
grounds for surpassing it. 

Human knowledge has its foundation in existence (which in 
man is extra-cognitional) and yet in that foundation must find the 
grounds for surpassing the appearance/reality distinction. This 
means that man's mode of existence must contain the grounds for 
surpassing that distinction. Man's existence, which seems alien and 
external to his knowledge, must itself be such that it is the ground 
of his knowledge and of any absolute which is attained by his 
knowledge. For to surpass the appearance/reality distinction is to 
reach an absolute insight. Here, then, we emerge to a surprising 
conclusion: man's contingent existence must be the ground for his 
contact with the absolute. This is unexpected. For we might think 
that our finite and situated mode of existence would, if anything, 
impede and prevent absolute cognition. If this were so, there 
would be discontinuity between our cognition and our existence, 
and our situation would be an accidental and inexphcable append- 
age to our knowledge. But if the foregoing reasoning is right, our 
situated and perspectival mode of existence does not exclude us 
from the absolute but is actually what provides access to the 

We may approach matters in the following way. The epistemo- 
logical problem is the problem of surpassing the distinction be- 
tween appearance and reahty and of justifying the hyper-individual 
value of our knowing. Now it may be taken as a cardinal principle 
that that which makes the appearance/reahty distinction possible 

The Point of Departure 63 

is not itself dubitable. Here Descartes' view is beyond reproach: 
doubt cannot be ultimate, for doubt is generated because of the 
possibility of distinguishing between what appears to be and what 
reaUy is. Doubt inhabits the chasm which is opened between these 
two. It might at first appear that once this chasm has opened for 
our knowledge, then nothing can close it. Yet this is not so. For 
there must be that in our knowledge which allows this appearance/ 
reality distinction to appear, and the ground of the distinction 
cannot itself fall on the side of appearance. 

For Descartes, the appearance/reality distinction is sufficiently 
grounded in the experience of myself as an individual thinking 
subject; that is, the intelligible paradigm for "reality" is that con- 
tained in my reflective grasp of myself as a thinking being, and the 
reason that the reality of other things may be called into doubt 
is that they do not exhibit this same intelligibility. The notion of 
appearance, on this view, arises because I apprehend everything 
besides my individual thinking self as a falling-away from the 
paradigmatic mode of reality which belongs to the self. Thus, we 
may say that the self is unconditionally real, for it is the ground 
for the distinction between appearance and reahty. But if the 
criticism of the Cartesian viewpoint is well taken (and that is the 
present contention) this will not do. The cogito-self cannot suffi- 
ciently ground the appearance/reality distinction, since it is not 
itself an irreducible beginning. We must go back behind it. The 
self of experience is not a private thinking substance, but a self 
which is transcendentally related to a world, a fundamental gestalt 
in which self and other are configurationally united. What then is 
the irreducible cognitional begiiming, in terms of which the dis- 
tinction between appearance and reality is both raised and sur- 

It is the question. It is my existence as a questioning being 
which generates the appearance/reality distinction. If I get down 
to the core of my knowing, to the foundation upon which my exist- 
ence as a knowing being is built, what I find is the question. At 
the absolute center of knowing, there is the question. Nothing can 

64 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

go back behind this — no doubt, no scepticism, no error can con- 
jure it away; nor can any subsequent knowledge be grasped except 
as a reply to the primordial question which I am. As a knower I 
inhabit the question; I exist questioningly. Only because I can call 
experience into the light of the question can I distinguish between 
appearance and reahty. Before this distinction comes my existence 
as a questioning being. But this means that the question takes 
precedence over the appearance/reality distinction, that whatever 
intelligibility is contained in the question is contained indubitably. 
The importance of this can be overlooked because we are in 
the habit of regarding a question as something merely negative: 
I do not know something, and therefore I question. As such, the 
question seems to be the pure absence of cognitional value. It 
seems to occupy the terrain of ignorance, to have no more intelli- 
gibility than a negation. What is proposed here is that this is not 
so, that the question is actually the primordial form of cognition. 
Meaning is first given to us in the form of the question; man's 
existence is this question. The question is not, as we usually 
picture it, a blank negative posed in the face of a solid block of 
reality. To picture it thus is to empty the question itself of value, 
to represent it as a cipher oriented towards a fullness. Because we 
do this, we find it hard to grasp what one could mean who as- 
signed cognitive value to the question as such. One only knows, 
we feel, what he can assert; that is why epistemology is often 
thought to be a review of propositions or judgments : a proposition 
is the public form of an assertion, and only assertions are cogni- 
tional. Questions express what I do not know. But in putting 
things thus we neglect to advert to the fact that underlying all 
assertion is the need to assert. Why do I assert anything? Because 
implicitly I have previously questioned. The primordial question 
is the ground for the existence of any assertion whatsoever. This 
is what we overlook. As Ortega y Gasset says, the ultimately 
astonishing thing is that man has problems at all. Why should we 
have problems, why should we question? In asking this question, 
thought sees that it can go no further. Man has problems because 
he exists questioningly. 

The Point of Departure 65 

If the question is the primary form of cognition, then whatever 
is contained in the question is indubitably real. But the question 
contains much more than the Cartesian cogito. Surely it contains 
the self, but not in an exclusive or even prominently thematic 
way: it contains the self as open towards the other. The self which 
comes to itself in the question comes to itself as openness to the 
other. The other is just as present in the question as is the self. 
That is the justification for Heidegger's and Ortega's viewing of 
the world as the correlate of my existence. Being is present to me 
questioningly: what is given in the question is being in its ques- 
tionability. This is not playing with words, for this presence of 
being in its questionability is my ultimate assurance of intelligi- 
bility. Reality is given to me as correlative to the question: then, 
in inhabiting this question, I inhabit meaning, and there is no 
escape from it. I am this dweUing in meaning, because I am the 
question. The revelation of the world as questionable is its revela- 
tion as intelligible: this is cognition, primary cognition, and it is 
given in the question. The world is the correlate of my existence 
because the world is the totality of entities as incorporated into 
the question: because my thought is open to Being in its question- 
ability, it is the correlate of the world as included within the ques- 
tion of Being. Self and world are the two sides of an experience 
which is questioningly open to Being. 

More than this, what is given in the question is the fact that we 
question. The question comes to itself, utters itself, in language. 
Then it is we who speak and we who question. As the questioner, 
I am part of a community of questioning beings. We exist ques- 
tioningly. Thus Heidegger will say that "language is the house of 
being": 2^ man, as questioning existence, raises the question of the 
Being of the beings he meets, but he raises this question in lan- 
guage, and thus Being dwells in language. Conversely, man dwells 
in the intelligibHity of being by dwelling in language. Here Brunner 
is right. Where thought starts is with the question; but the question 
finds voice in language. The full inteUigibiUty of the question in- 

25 Heidegger, Lettre sur I'Humanisme, p. 24. 

66 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

eludes the community of questioning beings who give voice to it: 
it includes dialog. In inhabiting the question, I am open to the 
"thou" who addresses me and who dwells with me in language. 
Contained in the question is much more than the thinking sub- 
stance of Descartes: the appeal and response of the "I" and 
"thou," being in its question ability, the world about which I raise 
the question of its being. It can now also be pointed out how my 
existence may be the foundation of my relation to the absolute. 
For even on a pre-cognitional level, I exist questioningly: human 
reality is inserted into the world as a living question. As he comes 
to the consciousness of himself, man grasps his existence as a 
questioning existence. But a questioning existence is turned to the 
absolute. It is the presence of the absolute, the presence of being 
in its questionabiUty. Then man's properly human mode of exist- 
ence is this openness to being. 

If these contemporary thinkers are right, it might be wondered 
why Descartes saw things so differently. In so far as such ques- 
tions can be answered, the answer probably is that he did not carry 
his examination back far enough. He remained too much within 
what Husserl has caUed-*' the "natural view" of things which re- 
gards the human entity as simply one among others, even while 
trying to subject this view to criticism. When he got back behind 
the "natural view," he still had not modified his conception of the 
knower, and when he resuscitated the self it was the self of the 
"natural view" with the other entities omitted — an isolated "think- 
ing substance." If we carry reflection back to its ultimate ground 
in human reality, we discover human reality as a unique openness 
to being: both as existent and as knower, I am a question inserted 
into reality. My privilege is not to be a thinking substance, but to 
be this unique openness to reaUty. My claim to a privileged status 
consists in my being the scene for this disclosure of reality. 

Descartes did not sufficiently recognize that the question is more 

26 Edmund Husserl, Ideas; General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology , 
trans, by W. R. Boyce Gibson (New York: Macmillan), 1931, pp. 101-106, 


The Point of Departure 67 

than the revelation of the subject. He grasped the privileged role 
of thought, but he grasped it as questioning activity, and thus 
reconfined this questioning activity to a separate thinking sub- 
stance. He thus considered consciousness as the act or function of 
a "thing" in the same way that the activities of the entities which 
consciousness encounters are activities of "things." Consciousness, 
however, as the disclosure of all activities is not an activity of a 
thing in the same way that these activities are. Birds fly, fire 
warms, plants grow, man is conscious, so would run the list of 
activities. But consciousness is not the activity of a subject in the 
same sense as these others: it is the questioning existence which 
brings to light all these other activities and cannot be compre- 
hended in terms of them. Descartes' essential mistake was that he 
had not suflficiently liberated himself from the conception of 
thought as a "thing." Man's unique mode of existence was appre- 
hended by him as the existence of a "thinking thing," a conception 
not only terminologically inappropriate but philosophically mis- 
leading, since it introduces more problems than it solves. 



Any philosopher of knowledge will have some kind of problem 
about perception. For the general realization of the bi-polar nature 
of consciousness does not settle every question that can be raised 
about the objectivity of the whole range of data present to 
consciousness. The area of perception is especially replete with 

At the start we all stand in the comfortable assurance of com- 
mon sense, which proceeds on the assumption that the world 
presented to us through sense perception is purely and simply 
"there," even when we are not sensing it. It is there as such, in 
the exact manner it is sensed, in complete independence of our 
conscious awareness. Thus, when my auto speeds over the highway 
and I tranquilly behold the panorama of sights, sounds, and smells 
which make up the countryside, it does not occur to me to think 
anything else but that I am perceiving what is there as such when 
I am not perceiving it. I am aware of the green of the grass, the 
solidity of the hills, the blue of the sky, the noise and clatter of 
other cars, the drone of an airplane overhead, the resistance 
of the road against the car-wheels, the gigantic collective shape of 
the trees, the motion of clouds, the heat of the July sun, the 
mingled scent of pine and gasoline fumes. And all of this is there 
for me as extended in space, as a dense distance — as far as I can 
see, there stretches the voluminous expanse which seems to sur- 
round and contain me and my awareness. This panorama is a 

The Problem of Perception: I 69 

successive one, for the speeding car keeps introducing me to new 
vistas and leaving others behind. But it does not for a single mo- 
ment enter my head that as I leave each vista behind, as the scene 
which I beheld a moment ago vanishes from my view, that it 
ceases to exist. I assume just the opposite. I assume that the scene 
upon which I looked a second ago still stands there in a way in 
which it stood there for me, ready to be presented to someone else 
(or to me, if I choose to return). 

"Assume" is even a poor word, for I do not consciously assume 
this at all; it is hardly a cognitional act of any kind. The objectivity 
of the landscape is a kind of habitation for my own being. The 
scenes which are up ahead on the road loom up for me already; 
my present consciousness is a kind of living-towards the impending 
future, so that the objectivity towards which I live is at the base 
of my present consciousness. The absent other is still there for 
me, whether it is the other I just beheld or am yet to behold. The 
naive consciousness (which simply means lived consciousness, 
unreflective, non-theoretical consciousness) is sustained by the 
pure "thereness" of that amongst which it moves and consequently 
does not dream of questioning this thereness; its own self-presence 
would slip away if it did so, for it finds itself out-there, among 

"Naive realism," as it is called, is simply this hved acceptance 
of total objectivity — or the philosophical aflQrmation of the cogni- 
tive value of this hved acceptance. It is often said that naive real- 
ism holds that the precise quahties which we sense are formally 
there independent of sensation, but this may be a wrong way of 
putting it. The language of "qualities" is probably not apt for 
expressing the position of lived naive consciousness, for the latter 
is primarily an acting consciousness, and moves among things, not 
quahties. A thing is, for it, a unified center of action which is set 
over against my action; it is that against which I act, and which 
reacts upon me. It is both the condition for and obstacle to my 
action. Those philosophers are doubtless right who, like John 
Dewey and Max Scheler, ascribe our original conviction of objec- 

70 The Philosophy of Knowledge '\ 


tivity to the feeling of the "resistance" of the world. My actionnj 
and my will do not flow freely. I meet impediments, and that is j 
how I first become aware of myself; an actor meeting counter- j 
actors. As an actor, I am a unified center, and things as counter- ! 
actors are unified centers met by me. As resistant, their reahty is 
not conferred upon them by me; therefore as resistant, they are 
unqualifiedly real and objective. , 

Since this is the context in which naive consciousness meets the .*i 
world, then all features of that world tend to share the pure 
"thereness" of the world towards which action thrusts. As soon as v 
we begin to talk about "qualities" and to wonder whether these ^ 
are objective or not, we have taken a step back from action, for rj 
quality is a theoretical term. Action does not advert to qualities. ., 
For it, the separate features of the world are not met as separate :: 
features, but incorporated into the unity of the resisting thing. 
Green, rough, smooth, warm, blue, soUd, sweet, shrill, soft, round, 
large, loud, are experienced as imbedded in the resistant matrix ; 
which is the field of my action, and not experienced as "qualities." ; 
When naive consciousness goes on to distinguish an "I" from the I 
other, it automatically includes these features on the side of the i 
independent other. The first reflective consciousness is only a regu- 
larization of the situation in which the acting consciousness finds 
itself. Whether this is justified or not, is a question that may well | 
be raised, but it would seem that we must at least realize what 
underlies naive realism. 


As it happens, when critical reflection got around historically to 
posing the problem of reflection, it quickly forsook the reahstic 
outlook of common sense. Consequently, some of the points now 
to be made in the course of an examination of the problem of 
perception as it arose historically may seem to be somewhat in the 
nature of back-tracking from the insistence on the bi-polarity of 
consciousness contained in the last chapter. This is inevitable, 

The Problem of Perception: I 71 

since the thinkers who initiated the discussion of this problem did 
not begin with an acknowledgment of the bi-polarity of conscious- 
ness. On the contrary, it was they who gave the subjectivist out- 
look its most popular formulation, the so-called "image" theory 
of perception. Nevertheless, it is useful to begin the examination 
of the problem historically with these thinkers, rather than in a 
directly analytic way, and this not only because of the intrinsic 
interest to be found in their writings. For the truth is that their 
viewpoint is not merely a contingent historical peculiarity of their 
own, but it is one which recommends itself to any human mind 
when operating at a certain stage of reflection. 

It is the version of the British philosopher, John Locke^ which 
defined the status of the discussion for those who followed. We 
shall have to concentrate on the most cursory presentation of a 
small segment of the thought of a man who was extremely influen- 
tial — influential, it may be, out of all proportion to the profundity 
of his thought, and apparently because he expressed so well a 
viewpoint inevitable in reflection. 

His aim is similar to Descartes' : to justify the use of understand- 
ing, and to set knowledge on a firm footing. His aim, hke Des- 
cartes', is to carry thought back to its own foundations. But he 
does not accept the elevation of the intelligible over the sensible. 
Rather, he regards all intelligibility as derivative from the senses. 
His famous comparison of the mind of man at birth with a "tabula 
rasa," a blank tablet upon which nothing has yet been written, is 
meant not only to dispense with any recourse to "innate ideas," 
but to prepare the explanation of how meaning is put together by 
an elaboration of sensory data. We know nothing which has not 
been derived from the senses; the only original writing upon the 
tablet of the mind is that which is inscribed by the senses. Locke 
is thus an "empiricist," in the most familiar philosophical meaning 
of that word: a sense empiricist, one who holds that all content 
of thought is eventually reducible to a sense-reference. 

1 1632-1704. 

72 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

While many interesting contributions to the psychology of 
knowledge are made in the course of Locke's attempt to trace out 
how we build up our complex thought-meanings from simple sense- 
beginnings, it is his way of conceiving the objects of this sense 
experience which provides the key to his epistemology. What we 
know, according to Locke, is an "idea." This is a highly significant 
word with which to begin, for it immediately gets us entangled in 
the image theory of perception. Most people would say they are 
aware of things. For Locke, however, the object of awareness is 
an idea. No more than with Descartes does this mean exclusively 
a "concept." Rather it is: "the object of understanding whenever 
a man thinks; I have used it to express whatever is meant by 
phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can 
be employed about in thinking . . ."- An idea, again, is "the 
immediate object of perception."^ The premises here seem to be 
those which are operative in all such beginnings: that of which I 
am aware is present to my awareness; it is therefore present within 
my awareness; if it is within my consciousness, it is a mental 
datum; therefore it is an idea. So, data like white, round, cold, 
moving, solid, sweet, painful, extended, are all ideas. 

Now obviously, one who begins here with Locke has the imme- 
diate problem: if what I am immediately aware of in perception is 
an idea, and if an idea is a mental event and hence subjective, 
then ui what sense is my perception a revelation of anything other 
than myself? Is reaUty at all like my idea? How do I know it is, if 
I never know extra-mental reaUty, but only ideas? The experience 
of seeing blue, feeling something smooth, tasting something sweet, 
hearing a shrill noise, feeling heat, are experiences going on in 
me — but how do I know that they reveal anythmg of the ways 
things are in themselves? When I am not sensing things, are they 
really blue, smooth, sweet, shrill, hot, sohd, extended, shaped? 

^ Locke Selections, edit, by Sterling Lamprecht (New Yoric: Scribner's), 
1928, p. 95. All references to Locke are to this volume. (Quotations are from 
his Essay Concerning Human Understanding). 

3 Ibid., p. 205. 

The Problem of Perception: I 73 

Here is Locke's problem. It is an acute one. How do I know 
that my ideas resemble things? Are bodies really like the ideas I 
have of them? We cannot simply assume that they are — 

. . . we may not think (as perhaps usually is done) that they are 
exactly the images and resemblances of something inherent in the 
subject; most of these of sensation being in the mind no more the 
likeness of something existing without us, than the names that stand 
for them are the likeness of our ideas, which yet upon hearing they 
are apt to excite in us.* 

Ideas are my ways of subjectively reacting to the influences which 
bodies bring to bear on me. They are the representations in my 
consciousness of bodies outside me, mental copies or images of 
these bodies. But are they good copies? How far do they resemble 
the original? Here Locke distinguishes. What I directly know are 
ideas, but in respect to some of these ideas, I can infer that they 
really do resemble qualities which are found in the objects them- 
selves. There are certain quahties which belong essentially to 
bodies, and which are inseparable from them, so that a body could 
neither be conceived nor exist without these quahties: such are 
solidity, extension, figure, motion or rest, and number. These 
Locke denominates "primary qualities," and he concludes that our 
ideas of such qualities represent what is found as such in bodies 
themselves. Not aU ideas are so objectively well founded. Such 
features as color, sound, taste, are not essentially contained in the 
concept of body; they are simply sensations caused in us by the 
primary qualities and by no means on an equally objective footing. 

The ideas of primary qualities of bodies are resemblances of them, and 
their patterns do really exist in the bodies themselves; but the ideas, 
produced in us by these secondary qualities, have no resemblance of 
them at all. There is nothing like our ideas existing in the bodies them- 
selves. They are, in the bodies we denominate from them, only a 

4 7i,vf. 

74 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

power to produce these sensations in us: and what is sweet, blue or 
warm in idea, is but the certain bulk, figure, and motion of the in- 
sensible parts in the bodies themselves, which we call so.^ 

If we wish, then, to speak of color, sound, taste, as being 
"objective," the most we can mean is that there is a power in 
objects sufficient to cause these subjective impressions in me. 
There is some reason why we see the grass as green, rather than 
red; taste sugar as sweet and lemon as sour; hear a grating noise 
rather than a melodious one. But apart from our conscious experi- 
ence, these things are not there as such: 

Take away the sensation of them; let not the eyes see light, or colours, 
nor the ears hear sounds; let the palate not taste, nor the nose smell; 
and all colours, tastes, odours, and sounds, as they are such particular 
ideas, vanish and cease, and are reduced to their causes, i.e. bulk, 
figure, and motion of parts.^ 

What Locke leaves us with, then, is a geometrical universe, in 
which the "objective reality" of the world is reduced to the bulk 
and motion of extended bodies and everything else is relegated to 
the subjective. He was by no means alone in this way of seeing 
things. Descartes, as we saw, said essentially the same thing; 
Galileo, Hobbes, Newton,'^ all concurred, and this view became in 
fact the standard scientific and philosophical belief throughout the 
18th century. It is not too much to say that it is the view which is 
most immediately superimposed by our culture on the primitive 
naive view; with the permeation through every educated and quasi- 
educated mind of the scientific way of conceiving the world, many 
people tend, at the level of their expressed beliefs, to assume the 
truth of this outlook. Every high school student knows that "of 
course" the sky isn't really blue, sugar isn't "really" sweet, water 

5 Ibid., p. 207. 

6 Ibid. 

^ On this, see E. A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern 
Physical Science (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books), 1954. 

The Problem of Perception: I 75 

isn't really warm (in fact isn't really "water" but H2O). It is all a 
matter of refracted light, cortical reflexes, molecules in motion. 
This is the "bifurcation" of nature which Whitehead decries® and 
which is exhibited in its most accessible form by Locke: the split- 
ting of nature down the middle into the geometrical "real world" 
of extended bodies in motion and the "mental world" of our sen- 

From the foregoing it is easy to see why Locke has been called 
an "indirect" or "representative" realist. His starting-point is actu- 
ally that of the epistemological idealist: what my act of awareness 
immediately terminates in is an idea. But in respect to some of 
these ideas (those which represent primary qualities) we may infer 
that they correctly represent a feature of reaUty which is there 
independent of our awareness, and so indirectly may vindicate 
realism's belief that consciousness reaches the non-self. 

An evaluation of Locke's theory is really contained in Berke- 
ley's rejoinder to it, but one or two separate remarks may be made. 
First of all, it seems correct to say that Locke was really assuming 
a sort of realism from the beginning, in spite of the apparent 
idealism of his starting-point. His question really was: how do we 
know which of the ideas we have correspond to qualities present 
in bodies? He never seems to have asked himself how he knew 
that there were bodies. That he simply assumes. This is not only a 
feUcitous demonstration of that balance which enables British 
thinkers to allow down-to-earth considerations to hold speculation 
in inconclusive counterpoise. It is also an inevitable concomitant 
of any brand of representationalism. For it amounts to the failure 
to examine thoroughly the consequences of one's own assumptions. 
Representationalism holds that ideas are caused by bodies, but 
are themselves subjective data; it overlooks the issue of how we 
may know the causal property of bodies if we do not know bodies 
but only ideas. This dilemma is fatal to representationalism, and 
it was left to Berkeley to develop it. 

8 A. N. Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- 
versity Press), 1920, Chapter II. 

76 The Philosophy of Knowledge 


The term "refutation" should be used sparingly in philosophy, 
but one case where it is clearly appHcable is to Berkeley's rebuttal 
to Locke. It certainly seems just to say that if we begin where 
Locke began, we should logically finish where Berkeley finished. 
George Berkeley, bishop in the Irish Anglican church,^ was 
prompted by the highest spiritual motives in his philosophizing. 
Views like that of Locke might not be as directly reprehensible as 
those, say, of the materialist Thomas Hobbes (who reduced mind ' 
to the motion of atoms), but they played into the materialists' 
hands through their granting a mysterious "material substance" ' 
co-equal autonomy with the reality of mind. He who undertakes to i 
overthrow materiahsm may make out a splendid case for himself i 
if he can simply show that what the materialist means by matter 
does not exist; this is what Berkeley proposed to do. Locke's 
"material substance," supposed to be independent of mind, is a 
myth. If genuine reality is spiritual, then all specious objections to 
the existence of God and the immortaUty of the soul fall away. 
And it is the easiest thing in the world to show that reality is 

Let us just take Locke at his own word: what we know directly 
are ideas. Berkeley does not quarrel with this — he emphasizes it 
to the utmost degree. What we know directly — color, sound, taste, 
resistance, pain, pleasure, joy, desire, sorrow, extension — all these 
things are contents of consciousness. They are, as consciously 
known, ideas. But if this is so, then the ground is cut from under 
Locke's ensuing reasoning. Berkeley will first ask Locke upon 
what ground he makes anything significant out of his distinction 
between primary and secondary quaUties. Is this distinction based 
upon experience? When did I ever experience a body which had 
the primary qualities without the secondary? The answer, clearly, 
is never. Then this is not a difference between ways of experienc- 


9 1685-1753. 

The Problem of Perception: I 77 

ing: all qualities as given are on even terms — they are all ideas. 
What reason, then, is there to give one type of idea a privilege not 
accorded to another?^" 

Not only is there no basis in experience for Locke's granting a 
privileged objectivity to ideas of primary qualities, but what he is 
defending is simply unthinkable. For, if what we know directly are 
ideas, then what can it mean to discover which ideas "represent" 
things as they are "in themselves?" How would we ever discover 
which ideas are good copies of reality? 

The way we ordinarily go about deciding whether something is 
a good copy or not is by comparing the representation to the 
original: this photograph is a good copy of John Smith if it really 
resembles him, and this we learn by comparing photograph to 
man. But the difficulty of proceeding like this with our perceptions 
leaps to the eye: how can we compare our ideas to the originals 
if we never perceive the originals but only ideas? Not only this, 
but what do we even mean by asking whether this idea resembles 
the original? For what could an idea resemble except another idea? 
Locke's whole program, then, is illusory, for it is trying to do the 

Again, I ask whether those supposed originals, or external things, of 
which our ideas are the pictures or representations, be themselves per- 
ceivable or no? If they are, then they are ideas, and we have gained 
our point: but if you say they are not, I appeal to anyone whether it 
be sense to assert a color is like something which is invisible; hard or 
soft like something intangible; and so of the rest.^^ 

Berkeley will go still further. Existence, he states, is actually 
inconceivable except in terms of ideas. For whatever we know we 
know in terms of experience. Every assertion we make can only 
have meaning for us if it applies to something in our actual 

^0 Berkeley Selections, edit, by Mary Whiten Calkins (New York: Scrib- 
ner's), 1929, p. 129. All references to Berkeley are to this volume. (This 
quotation from Principles of Human Knowledge) . 

" Ibid., p. 128. 

78 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

experience. Grant, however, that experience always terminates in 
"ideas," and then the statement that anything else exists becomes 
empty. All we can mean by existing is what we directly experience 
as existing. What we experience is psychic, mental. Therefore, says 
Berkeley, "esse est percipi" — the only meaning for "being" is 
"being perceived."^- Actually his complete formula should read: 
"esse est aut percipere aut percipi" — to be is either to perceive or 
to be perceived; for he allows that there are two ways of being: 
as a mind or as the object of mind. I exist, and the objects of my | 
conscious experience exist (my ideas). But that is all I can mean 
by existence. 

To mean something by a word, I must be able to use it to point 
to some item of my experience; but the word "existence" must 
either point to an experiencing self or to the ideas which it is 
experiencing, and in either case we are in the realm of the spiritual. 
The conception of something called "matter" which is completely 
outside of mind, which exists in a way other than mind and inde- 
pendent of it, is a pseudo-notion. If we do not believe this, let us 
make the effort to conceive of something existing unperceived. To 
imagine things existing unperceived is simply to imagine oneself 
perceiving them, and thus still to confine their reality to what it is 
for perception. 

But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine 
trees, for instance, in a park, or books existing in a closet, and nobody 
by to perceive them. I answer, you may so, there is no difficulty in it. 
But what is all this, I beseech you, more than framing in your mind 
certain ideas which you call books and trees, and at the same time 
omitting to frame the idea of anyone that may perceive them? But 
do not you yourself perceive or think of them all the while? This 
therefore is nothing to the purpose: it only shews you have the power 
of imagining, or forming ideas in your mind; but it does not shew 
that you can conceive it possible the objects of your thought may 
exist without the mind.^^ 

12/fc/J., p. 126. 
^^Ibid., p. 136. 

The Problem oj Perception: I 79 

No wonder, then, at Locke's conception of material substance 
as an "I know not what" underlying experienced qualities — for a 
material substance is in principle unknowable. Locke should have 
noticed that his reasoning involved him in the strange result that 
matter as such turned out to be an unobservable; it always re- 
mained an "I know not what," a useless appendage to what was 
directly given — mind and its ideas. Once we see that matter, con- 
sidered as an independent entity, is a ridiculous fiction, than all 
sorts of foolish problems are avoided, such as the worry over 
whether my ideas correspond to anything other than themselves; 
the reason is that there is no "external" world independent of ideas 
for these ideas to "correspond to." 

Much confusion is sometimes aroused in a first acquaintance 
with the doctrine of Berkeley. It is thought, for instance, that he 
is declaring that the world is an illusion, life a dream, and so forth. 
This is not really the point at all. He is not denying that the world 
exists, that things are real. He is really asking what we mean by 
the statement that the world is real. When I say this apple really 
exists, that it is real, what do I mean?" What do I mean by the 
"apple" about which I am so sure that it exists? The apple is this 
red, round, firm, smooth, fragrant, sweet, crunchy thing here 
before me. But every attribute I apply to it in this description, 
Berkeley would insist, is an idea, a way in which I am consciously 
experiencing. Therefore, all I mean by the apple is a set of ideas 
(experienced data) which form a constant constellation in my 
experience. If I insist that the apple is real, that it exists, Berkeley 
is far from denying it. He will only ask me to point out some 
feature which is contained in the term apple which is more than 
an idea. 

That is why Dr. Sam Johnson was missing the point when, 
stoutly championing the interests of common sense, he kicked the 
stone and exclaimed "Thus do I refute Bishop Berkeley"! His 
point, of course, was that the stone was a massive material thing, 

14 Ibid., pp. 124-125. 

80 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

stubbornly there in spite of Berkeley's abstruse attempts to dis- 
solve it into the thin air of ideas. This would not have fazed Ber- 
keley in the slightest; he would merely have asked, "What did you 
experience when you kicked against the stone? A feeling of resist- 
ance, which I declare is an idea; a feeling of pain, which every- 
body admits is an idea. You saw, visually, a gray shape, felt a 
rough surface, and heard a thudding noise. All ideas. Therefore 
the stone you contend is undoubtedly there is (undoubtedly) 
there. But what is it but the experienced unity of diverse ideas — 
so that you have not refuted me but confirmed me." Berkeley was 
very definite in arguing that he has no quarrel with what the plain 
man meant by matter, matter as actually experienced (which could 
be regarded as a facet of experience, and therefore a facet of 
mind) ; his only quarrel was with the mythical material "substance" 
of philosophers which was supposed to be some totally unthinking 
and unthought "x" apart from experience altogether. This was not 
only an unverifiable — ^for, how could we verify in terms of experi- 
ence what is in principle beyond experience — but it is actually 

I deny therefore that there is any unthinking substratum of the objects 
of sense, and in that acceptation that there is any material substance. 
But if by material substance is meant only sensible body — that which 
is seen and felt (and the unphilosophical part of the world, I dare 
say, mean no more) — then I am more certain of matter's existence 
than you or any other philosopher pretend to be.^^ 

The objection is also raised that if Berkeley identifies being with 
being perceived, then he is implying that when things are not per- 
ceived they do not exist. Does this mean that when I walk out of 
the room, the perceived objects which fill it simply cease to be? 
Not necessarily, for they can be perceived by some other mind. 
Berkeley is not contending that my individual mind confers reality 
on things. But suppose no one is there? What about the building 

^^ Ibid., p. 309 (Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous). 

The Problem of Perception: I 81 

when it is vacant at night, deserted by everyone, with no perceiver 
there at all? Does it still exist? Berkeley could still say yes, for he 
allows not only the possibility but the necessity that there is an 
absolute mind which is at every moment perceiving the data which 
I perceive, so that even if no finite mind is perceiving them, they 
can still be said to exist. 

As a matter of fact, the quasi-independence of sensations is the 
basis of Berkeley's "proof" for the existence of God. He certainly 
does not hold that my ideas derive their origin from me: they are 
not in my power but rather impose themselves upon me regardless 
of my own will. This incidentally, is why those persons also err 
who accuse Berkeley of being unable to distinguish dream and 
reality. He distinguished these in about the same way as anybody 
else distinguishes them: the dream-world is disorganized, arbitrary, 
subject to my control; the real world is orderly, predictable, funda- 
mentally beyond my voHtional control.^'' I am not at liberty to 
experience anything I like, and this is the sign that my ideas are 
imposed upon me by some superior source. 

. . . sensible things cannot exist otherwise than in a mind or spirit. 
Whence I conclude, not that they have no real existence, but that, 
seeing they depend not on my thought, and have an existence distinct 
from being perceived by me, there must be some other Mind wherein 
they exist. As sure, therefore, as the sensible world really exists, so 
sure is there an infinite omnipresent Spirit who contains and supports 

To Bishop Berkeley, reality appears as a community of spirits, 
(thinking beings) among whom one spirit is primary, the source 
of the experience of the others. We may stiU use the word "matter" 

'^^ Ibid., Tp. 141 {Principles). 

1'^ Ibid., p. 276. It might be wondered what would happen to Bishop 
Berkeley's philosophy if he did not bring in the existence of God but con- 
fined himself to what is directly given in experience as he conceived it. In 
a way, phenomenalism is the working out of the answer to this question: 
it is Berkeley with the absolute removed. 

82 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

if we like, but if this is to have real meaning, it is simply the term 
for certain aspects of the experience of spirits: the aspect under 
which experience has the features usually called quantitative. Far 
from being independent of mind, matter is simply one aspect of 

In evaluating Berkeley, we are faced with the central difficulty 
of deciding how to interpret him. He may mean either: 

1) That of which I am directly aware is my own idea. This is 
certainly what Berkeley first seems to mean. And if this is taken 
as his consistent position, then he has all the difficulties of a strict 
subjectivism. If all my consciousness terminates in myself, how 
can I use any item of that knowledge to get beyond myself? It 
might be suggested that his view applies only to sensations, and 
that he could do what Descartes did: use an intelligible argument 
for God to extricate himself. Yet he himself argues against the 
existence of abstract terms, and is quite sensist in orientation. He 
does not develop the argument from intelligible evidence, although 
he accepts unquestioningly the concepts of cause and substance 
(the latter when applied to spiritual substance). We might defend 
him by saying that he is simply relying on the immediate primacy 
of the experience of the self and using the self as the norm for the 
assertion of any existence, but this would be more an argument 
offered in his behalf than a reasoning he himself developed. 

As matters stand in his own writings, he cannot be absolved 
from the charge that, on his own theory of knowledge, he cannot 
use God to find his way out of subjectivism, for on the subjectivist 
assumption, his idea of God also has only subjective value. Begin- 
ning with the assumption that all of my perceptions are ideas, I 
do not yet have an "other," and I urgently need some means to 
bestow the coefficient of otherness on these ideas. Even if Berkeley 
thinks he has succeeded in reaching this in respect to the absolute, 
this only validates one "other"; at this stage there is still the alter- 
native of conceiving himself to be alone in the face of an absolute 
who imposes his ideas upon him. The reahty of other human selves 
and the multiple reality of the non-human is, to say the least, 
not coercively estabhshed. Since to exist entails either perceiving 

The Problem of Perception: I 83 

or being perceived, it is fairly clear that no meaning can be 
attached to the independent existence of inanimate things or 
plants; the status of animals is more ambiguous; the existence of 
other human selves is thinkable but not clearly demonstrable on 
Berkeley's assumption that we know directly only our own ideas. 
2) That of which I am conscious is God's idea. On this interpre- 
tation, the same thing that exists outside my perception is also 
perceived by me. Sometimes he speaks Hke this. If this is what he 
means, then I really do know the non-self, and Berkeley is not an 
idealist at all, but a realist. The essence of epistemological reahsm 
is that my act of knowing puts me in touch with a non-self. The 
fact that Berkeley calls that non-self an "idea" and denies that 
it is "matter" seems to be more a metaphysical point than an 
epistemological one. The primary epistemological question is: in 
knowing, do I know what is other than myself? On this second 
way of taking him, Berkeley would be saying that I do — and 
simply adding that the real nature of what I know is that it is still 
mental; it is God's idea (the idea constantly perceived by God) 
now imposed on me. 



The universal confirmation of the accuracy of the portrait of 
reahty as it is painted by science has had the side effect of aggra- 
vating the epistemological problem of perception. For it has 
pressed home to reflection the seemingly either /or choice between 
the outlook of science and the outlook of common sense. What is 
the structure of reality in itself, apart from its relation to human 
consciousness? If it is really like the picture which the scientist 
paints, then the spectacle present to common sense does not faith- 
fully represent it — and the features which present themselves to 
immediate perception are not really there independent of per- 
ception; if they are not, we are prone to ask "where" they exist, 
and to conclude that they must be subjective experiences of a per- 
ceiving subject. 

84 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

Reflection on the findings of either physics or biology could 
easily give rise to this sort of consideration. Sir Arthur Eddington's 
famous parable of the "two tables" is a vivid presentation of the 
difiiculty as it is engendered by physics (although he himself does 
not accept it as insurmountable). Here he sits, he tells us/® begin- 
ning his task of writing his book on the nature of the physical 
world. But troubles arise immediately, for, strange to say, he is 
simultaneously sitting at and leaning on "two tables." The table 
at which he sits is, for common sense, a rather bulky black object, 
hard and resistant, extending continuously in space for a distance 
of about three feet, solid and still, quite filling the space within its 
surfaces with a matter called wood. But the scientist, when he 
looks, sees no such table. The table of the physicist is mostly 
empty space, within which atoms of infinitesimal size are swirling 
about in incredibly rapid motion without ever touching one 
another. Which is the real table? If the table of perception is real, 
the scientific table is unreal; if the scientific table is real, the table 
of perception is unreal. Prompted by the unprecedented practical 
success of the scientific view, many infer forthwith that it is the 
scientific table which is reaUy there, and that the features presented 
to perception are not objective data. Not only is color, in Edding- 
ton's phrase, mere "mind-spinning" but so are the other secondary 
qualities, and so, in a true sense, are even extension and the con- 
tinuous character of the perceived table, which do not correspond 
to a state of affairs obtaining outside of me. 

A similar difiicult dilemma could be reached on the basis of the 
conclusions of biology. For what the physiologist has to tell us 
about the nature and origin of perception does not seem very easy 
to reconcile with the conviction of the man in the street that he 
perceives a pubUc world which is independently there. Perception, 
and this means all perception, and not merely optical awareness, 
we now know to begin with a stimulus which derives from a 
physical body, moves through an intervening medium, and 
impinges on a nerve ending. An impulse is then transmitted to a 

18 A. S. Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (New York: Mac- 
millan), 1929, p. ix ss. 

The Problem of Perception: I 85 

cortical center and a modification set up on the brain-cells. As an 
accompaniment of this cortical activity, sensation occurs. Various 
questions for the epistemology of perception are raised. Obviously 
the cortical activity of the brain-cells is nothing like the molecular 
activity of the body which transmitted the original stimulus; it is 
not even like the hght-waves which caused the neural reaction. 
But then how can my sensation, which is simply the accompani- 
ment of a cortical activity give me the awareness of something 
which is completely unlike itself?^^ 

The difiiculty does not stop here. For the physiologist knows 
that by an artificial stimulation of my brain-cells he can cause me 
to perceive colors, hear sounds, experience scents, when there are 
actually no objects present at all. Does it not then begin to seem 
as if what I always am actually experiencing is a sensation which 
accompanies a brain-state? On this basis, sensation is so far from 
putting me in touch with what is other than myself that it does not 
even take me outside of my own body.^^ 

With this sort of evidence we may feel ourselves to be faced 
with a somewhat harrowing dilemma: we either relegate science, 
with its unparalleUed store of verified fact, to the status of a useful 
fiction; or we consign the rich and variegated display of perception 
to the cenacle of our individual minds. It is sometimes overlooked 
how far reaching the second alternative would be. For in attributing 
to ourselves what perception attributes to the world, we would 
have to say not only that the table is not "really" sohd, the sky 
not "reaUy" blue, the melody not "really" sounding, but also that 
the sunset is not really splendid, the symphony not really majestic, 
the painting not really beautiful. If the "secondary" qualities are 
subjective, then surely what have been called the "tertiary" quali- 
ties (beauty, goodness, and the like) are also subjective. What 
the sun "really" is, is a gaseous assemblage of molecules, the 

19 Some might even begin to talk as if I am really conscious of my own 
brain-states, but a little further reflection would reveal the foolishness of 
this, for my own brain is never the object of my awareness. 

20 For a review of the physiological opinions, see R. J. Hirst, The Prob- 
lems of Perception (New York: Macmillan), 1959, pp. 145 ss, 279 ss. 

86 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

symphony "really" is a series of disturbances of the air, the paint- 
ing "really" is a collection of chemicals. It can hardly be denied 
that a certain depression settles on the spirit when the obligation 
is felt to talk in this manner. And this depression is not irrelevant 
to the epistemological question. For it should begin to be clear 
that the question of objectivity cannot be raised apart from the 
exigence of the inquiring consciousness. If the aesthetic conscious- 
ness is dissatisfied with a certain way of conceiving the nature of 
reality, this dissatisfaction must be reckoned with, for to shunt it 
aside would not silence its demands. 

More to our immediate point is the quandary in which scien- 
tism finds itself directly upon the enunciation of its own thesis. 
Scientism is obviously one version of representationalism; it is 
representationalism brought up to date. As such it suffers from the ; 
fatal weakness of inconsistency to which all representationahsm is » 
subject. What scientism contends is that my sensations are purely 
subjective, caused in me by the real objective entities — bodies con- 
ceived as science conceives them. But the difficulty just will not 
down: if my sensations are subjective, then how do I know that 
there really are bodies independent of them? If scientism is right, 
then its position vitiates the evidence upon which it claims to be 
right. For example, the physiologist says that I perceive this table 
the way I do because certain Ught-waves are refracted from the 
table, impinge on my retina, and cause a cortical reaction. There- 
fore the table as I actually perceive it is a subjective collocation 
of sensations aroused in me because of brain activity; what I am 
actually aware of is my own sensations, and nothing independently 
objective.^^ But when the physiologist says the light-waves are 
refracted from the table, impinge on my eye, and so on, he is 
talking about the table which I perceive: this table right here. 
This table, however, precisely as it can be experienced and pointed ! 

21 Some will go so far as to assert that what I am aware of is inside my 
head, which is obviously nonsense. We have only to ask ourselves what is 
the comparative size of the table which I perceive and my head to con- 
vince ourselves that the perceived table is not inside my head — if we are 
not convinced by the immediately given externality. 

The Problem of Perception: I 87 

to, is, on his own theory, simply a collocation of subjective sensa- 
tions. Then his position amounts to the absurd claim that sensation 
arises because a collocation of sensations causes me to have 

■ There seems absolutely no way out of the representationalist 
predicament. For representationalism is actually founded on a 
premise which nuUifies its own conclusions. The representationalist 
assumes not only that there are things independent of experience, 
but that I really do experience them, at least to the extent that I 
can call them "bodies" and can know how they interact with my 
body (also assumed as something independent of sensations) in 
order to give rise to sensations. But he then turns around and 
declares that all I directly know are my own sensations. Then the 
external body which he declares to be causing his sensations is 
itself a sensation. And the anomaly does not stop there. The 
physiologist says that sensations are simply accompaniments of 
brain-states. But what is the brain, on his premise? All I know 
about the brain I know through perception. Perception is of sub- 
jective sensations. Then the brain itself, in the only way I ever 
come into contact with it (through my perception), is a colloca- 
tion of sensations. In other words, the scientific representationalist, 
or any representationalist, is in the impossible position of holding 
that I both do and do not know more than my own sensations. 

Because of the patent untenability of representationahsm, it 
must be regarded as a halfway house on the road of epistemolog- 
ical speculation. Most contemporary philosophers so regard it, 
and tend to move either to a position of complete phenomenaUsm 
or back to a more direct reaHsm. We wiU look briefly at some of 
their positions. 

1) Moore, Russell, Broad 

One avenue of escape from the impasse of both representation- 
alism and Berkeleyan idealism might seem to be to question the 
starting point which they both take for granted. That is, the belief 

88 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

that what we are directly aware of is our own idea. This assump- 
tion immediately places the discussion on a subjectivist footing 
and causes most of the ensuing trouble. A valiant attempt to 
bypass it and to carry the whole discussion back to a more 
unquestionable basis was made by those who espoused the episte- 
mological primacy of the "sense datum." The notion of a sense 
datum was introduced by George Moore and Bertrand Russell as a \ 
kind of "neutral indubitable" upon which both epistemological ll 
realist and ideahst could find common ground.^- Prior to any deci- | 
sion as to whether the "patch of red" of which I am aware was an i 
idea or an mdependent material object, all disputants might at least :: 
agree that I am immediately aware of the red patch and that it ll 
certainly exists. We do not have to ask yet whether it exists as an i' 
idea or a material object, for the distinction between idea and • 
material object is not cognitionally primitive; it comes later, after ' 
I begin to discern the differences among the data which really are 

What is primitively given to awareness is that I am aware, and 
aware of something (a red patch, a shrill sound, a sweet taste); 
the precise status to be assigned to that of which I am aware is 
only determined posteriorly. What Moore thought to be beyond 
doubt was that awareness reaches something and that what it 
reaches is not identical with awareness. Thus, he argues against 
Berkeley, in his "The Refutation of Idealism," that rather than 
the "esse" of the perceived datum consisting in its "percipi," the 
datum of which I am aware necessarily has a status not reducible 
to my awareness of it.^^ My awareness of blue, green, yellow has 
something in common: awareness; but it has something which 
differentiates it: the objects in respect to which awareness takes 
place, blue, green, yellow. There is therefore a distinction between 
awareness and its objects, and hence it is impossible to claim as 

22 George Moore, Philosophical Studies (New York: Harcourt, Brace), 
1922; Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (New York: Henry 
Holt), 1959 (first published in 1912). For a brief discussion of sense-datum 
theory, see Hirst, op. cit., pp. 26-73. 

23 Moore, op. cit., p. 13. 

The Problem of Perception: I 89 

Berkeley did, that the very being of the datum is the being of 
awareness. At the very least, Moore contends, there is no way to 
show that the existence of the datum logically implies awareness 
of the datum; and he ends his essay by adopting a strongly realistic 
position: "awareness is and must be in all cases of such a nature 
that its object, when we are aware of it, is precisely what it would 
be, if we were not aware. "^^ Russell concurs with this (in his 
earlier works), holding that it is perfectly conceivable that the 
sense data which we perceive exist precisely as such when we are 
not perceiving them, and inventing the term "sensibiha" to denote 
such unsensed sense data.^^ 

It is evident that the original intention of the sense-datum 
theorists was strongly realistic. They thought that they had dis- 
covered a way to cut straight through the subjectivist thicket and 
affirm that consciousness reaches immediately and directly some- 
thing other than itself. In this vein, Moore exclaims that there is 
no question of how we get outside the circle of sensation; to be 
conscious is already to be outside that private ckcle.^*' Conscious- 
ness is transcendent from the start. But an interesting development 
occurs in later sense-datum theory. It is somewhat foreshadowed 
in the use to which the sense datum was very quickly put. For it 
cannot escape us that what the sense-datum theorist says in regard 
to perception could just as well be said of hallucinations and 
dream-experiences. In these, too, consciousness can be analyzed 
into an act/object correlation. This, in fact, was felt by many to 
add to the strength of the sense-datum view; it not only derived 
support from but helped to make intelligible what occurred in 
delusive perceptions. Thus, in a relational experience (the round 
penny from a certain angle looks eUiptical) or in hallucinatory 
experiences (seeing pink elephants) it was felt that two things 
could be said: I am not seeing a physical object,-^ and yet I am 
seeing something. What I am seeing is not nothing, hence there 

24 Ibid., p. 29. 

25 Russell, Mysticism and Logic, pp. 143-145. 
2« Moore, op. cit., p. 27. 

27 In physical reality there is no elliptical penny and no pink elephant. 

90 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

is a meaning to saying that it really exists; it was regarded as a 
sort of "epistemological object" of awareness and named a sense 
datum. From here it is a rather short step to the belief that what 
I am seeing in all cases of perception is a sense datum. Delusive 
experiences are, as subjectively undergone, qualitatively indis- 
tinguishable from veridical experiences: the red I dream about 
and the red I see are identical; if there really were pink elephants 
they would look to those who perceived them the way they now 
look to those who suffer from hallucinations. So it was concluded 
that the immediate object of both delusive and veridical experience 
was the same — a sense datum. Whatever I go on to say about 
"material objects" I must say on the basis of that of which I am 
directly aware — sense data. 

But see what has happened here. If a sense datum is common 
to both veridical and delusive experience, it evidently cannot 
underwrite an immediate contact with a world of independently 
existing material objects. In later theory, the sense datum begins 
to function as a kind of "third thing" interposed between aware- 
ness and physical objects. In this manner, many of the difficulties 
it was introduced to eliminate filter back into the theory. Some 
of these appear in a famous proponent of the doctrine, C. D. 

Broad attempts a continued adherence to reahsm, but has dif- 
ficulty fitting it into his sense-datum assumptions. He is sure that 
we are justified in ordinary language in saying that we know the 
truth of such statements as "I hear a beU" or "There are rats in 
the attic," since the situations in which they are justified clearly 
sometimes arise. Yet the notion of the bell as a "material object" 
contains hypotheses which are not and cannot be verified through 
direct perception. Common sense assumes that the bell as a 
material object is a unity, a completed entity, that it endures 
through a stretch of time, that it is pubHcly available to other 
observers. None of this is perceptually verifiable. What are given 
to perception are sense data, multiple, momentary, and fleeting. 
The notion of an object is constructed upon the basis of these 

The Problem of Perception: I 91 

indubitable but fugitive givens, but not verifiable purely in terms 
of them.2® 

2) Ayer and Phenomenalism 

Alfred Ayer carries this a considerable distance further, and 
winds up in a kind of phenomenalism which has had considerable 
influence.-^ Ayer treats the sense-datum vs. material object dispute 
as mainly one of language. There is, he contends, no substantive 
quarrel between the two camps, for no matter which side of the 
dispute we adopt, it gives rise to no different empirical expecta- 
tions on our part. That is, if the common sense defenders say, 
"I directly see the car as a material object in the garage" and the 
sense-datum people say "I directly see a collection of sense data 
out of which I construct the notion of a permanent unity, car," 
no real quarrel arises since each would act towards the perceived 
datum in the same way and entertain the same expectations with 
respect to it. The dispute is therefore linguistic, not real. The 
parties are really disputing as to which is the most appropriate 
language in which to speak about their experience; each experi- 
ences exactly what the other experiences, but each refers to it in a 
different way. One way is not "wrong" and the other "right" since 
there is no possible test which will ever turn up any difference 
between them. 

If I say "The car is in the garage," and you say "The car is not 
in the garage," one statement must be true and the other false, 
since they are asserting different things; but if you say that the car 
is a material object and I say that the car is a name for a collection 
of sense data, neither need be false for they do not refer to dif- 
ferences in experience, but only to different ways of talking about 

28 C. D. Broad, Mind and Its Place in Nature (London: Routledge & 
Kegan Paul Ltd.), 1925, Chapter IV. 

29 A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (New York: Dover, n.d.), 
(first published 1936). Some modification of Ayer's earlier views are in 
evidence in his later writings, particularly The Problem of Knowledge 
(New York: Penguin Books), 1956, pp. 124-125. 

92 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

experience. Each language may have its appropriate use, but the 
question of utility is not a question of truth. It may be more useful 
to measure in meters than yards, but that does not mean that one 
who describes a distance as one meter is "right," and one who 
describes it as 39.37 inches "wrong." Ayer leans to the belief that 
for ordinary purposes the material object language is perfectly 
satisfactory, while for technically exact philosophical purposes, 
the sense-datum language has the advantage. 

At first sight, this may be considered as an attempt to dismiss 
the whole issue as a pseudo-problem; a not unwarranted attempt, 
for there does seem to be something tantalizingly unreal about the 
problem of perception. If we look again, though, Ayer may appear 
to be open to the charge levelled against him that he really beheves 
that the sense-datum theory is factually right.^° Does he not really 
believe that what we actually perceive are sense data? Only on 
this basis could it be claimed that there is no difference between 
the beliefs of the material-object theorist and the sense-datum 
theorist. Only if we already believe that there is no more in the 
meaning of material object than what the sense-datum people find 
there could we contend that their assertions are indistinguishable. 
Ayer ultimately seems to hold that material object statements can 
be exhaustively translated into sense-data statements and hence 
are reducible to sense-data statements. His "linguistic phenome- 
nahsm" amounts to the view that what we mean by "physical 
object" is simply constant "patterns" of sense data. Knowing 
that certain data are conjoined in a systematic and recurring 
manner, we signalize this recurring pattern by a name and regard 
it as an object. But there is no more in the meaning "object" than 
in "recurring patterns of sense data." Hence, Ayer is still in the 
older tradition of phenomenalism, even though he tries to state it 
in a more unexceptionable manner. And it can even be averred 
that of its own nature the sense-datum theory tends equally well 
to either total realism or phenomenalism, that in fact the two are 
rather hard to distinguish, given the sense-datum assumption. 

30 J. L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 1962, 
pp. 56, 59, 106-107; and Hirst, op. cit., pp. 116-117. 

The Problem of Perception: I 93 

In general, phenomenalism holds that the notion of an object 
is a logical construction of thought, rather than something in any 
way directly given to experience. ^'^ What is directly given is a 
stream of discrete experience, which usually turn out to be a 
stream for sense: either sensations, in the older, more subjectivist, 
view of John Stuart Mill; or sense data in the neutral manner of 
the contemporaries. For MiU a "material object" was simply a 
"permanent possibility of sensation" :^^ thought discovers con- 
stancies and predictability in our subjective experiences and attrib- 
utes this to an independent ground or grounds, which it calls an 
object. The object, then, is the conceived foundation for the 
orderly occurrence of my sensation. Thus, to say that "the other 
side of the moon exists when no one is looking at it" just means, 
that "If I went through the series of sensations which I call 
traveling through space in a certain direction, I would have the 
series of sensations I caU seeing the other side of the moon." 
Ayer's earlier theories are in principle quite close to this,, 
although of a more linguistic turn. 

The phenomenalist's contention is that he can sujQficiently 
describe all that is truly given to experience in his terms and that 
every other way of speaking is superfluous, since it must reduce 
to phenomenalist terms in order to be significant. The rebuttal to 
phenomenalism would have to rest on asking ourselves whether 
this claim is true. 1 ) Can he successfully reduce all statements to 
an exclusive reference to sense-data? 2) Can he assert in his 
language everything that object language wishes to express? The 
rebuttal to phenomenalism on both counts is quite strong. 

R. J. Hirst's objection, in particular, seems well taken.^^ Hirst 
argues that phenomenalist language always turns out to be 
"tainted" by realistic material-object language. That is, the phe- 
nomenalist always surreptitiously utilizes language which reintro- 
duces material-object assumptions back into his own descriptions. 

31 For a good exposition, see Hirst, op. cit., pp. 74-110. 
^2 John Stuart Mill, An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philoso- 
phy, Ch. XI. 

33 Op cit., pp. 90-94. 

94 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

The phenomenalist, after all, has a rather imposing task: he mustr 
translate the meaning of "object" completely into sense-datum 
language without relinquishing any part of what the material- 
object statement means to assert. Now, the public character of the 
object, its permanence, and its causal efficacy do not lend them- 
selves easily to such translation. 

If reality consists exclusively in sense data and the awareness of 
them, it seems incredible that the continual agreement between 
the sense experience of different observers is possible. The only 
sufficient ground for the harmony of the experiences of different' 
observers seems to be that there is a common object different: 
from the sense data themselves which is the ground for the experi- 
encing of the sense data; dreams of different people cannot be so i 
harmonized, precisely because there is no common object. Even 
to talk of "observers," as the phenomenalist continually does, is to 
introduce object language, for the observer is not reducible to 
sense data. When he says that the statement "There is a car in the 
garage right now" is equivalent to "If you were experiencing 
garage-Uke sense data, you would be experiencing car-hke sense 
data," he has not totally laid the ghost of the object, since the 
"you" he still requires is not reducible to sense data but remains 
as an inexpungible vestige of an object. 

Finally, and most pressingly, the phenomenalist is faced with 
the seemingly insurmountable fault that his way of speaking loses 
contact with the character of actuaUty which the ordinary object- 
language statement unmistakably exhibits. For when I say of an 
absent object that "There is a car in the garage right now," I 
mean to refer to something which actually is, an actual member 
of the world as it here and now exists. But the phenomenalist 
must translate categorical statements about objects into hypo- 
thetical statements about sense data — and thus he loses the 
thematic actuahty which attaches to the former. This defect would 
be especially glaring in the case of an assertion about the state of 
the world before man existed.^* "Dinosaurs existed before man 

34 See D. M. Armstrong, Perception and the Physical World (New York: 
Humanities Press), 1961, p. 53 and Hirst, op. cit., p. 107. 


The Problem of Perception: I 95 

lived on earth," an ordinary material-object statement, would have 
to be converted into a contraf actual conditional: "If man had 
existed before he did, he would have had dinosaur-like sense data." 
But this obviously loses the whole character of actuality in the 
original statement, which wants to state not what would have been 
but what actually was. It therefore appears that the phenomenalist 
claim to be able to render the whole meaning of ordinary state- 
ments in its own terms cannot be sustained. The phenomenaUst 
might take refuge in the alternative claim that this untranslatable 
additional meaning is not legitimate, but there are few who would 
be prepared to accept this way out. 


, 1) Stebbing's Paradigm Argument 

By now, many a reader will be inclined to agree with the solu- 
tion to this problem offered by certain analytical philosophers who 
see the whole thing primarily as linguistic muddle. Their approach 
is in some ways similar to Ayer's but they are more content to 
rest in the primacy of common sense and to allow the various ways 
of speaking about the data of experience to stand side by side, 
rather than contending that they can be translated into each other. 

One of the liveliest presentations of this view is contained in 
the vigorous reply of L. S. Stebbing to the "two tables" fable of 
Sir Arthur Eddington.^^ She accuses Eddington of an intolerable 
raddling of language in this and other instances. For his famous 
"problem" is generated solely because of his failure to exercise 
requisite caution in applying a vocabulary proper to the speech of 
common sense to the inappropriate area of scientific inquiry. The 
primary issue is, what do we mean by "table?" What sort of word 
is this? It is a word which derives its meaning from ordinary 
perception, and has apphcation only to that realm. It is wrong for 
Eddington to make silly jokes about "two tables," for the silly 
jokes lead to solemn though equally silly philosophical problems. 

35 L. S. Stebbing, Philosophy and the Physicists (New York: Dover), 
n. d,, (originally published 1937), p. 54 ss. 

96 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

There is only one table, for the meaning of the word table is 
derived from the world of direct perception; I cannot ask whether 
the table of direct perception is real or not, because if it isn't, 
there aren't any real tables. There is no scientific table, for "table" 
is a word for which science has no use and no application; 
science may talk of atoms or electrons, but nothing it says about 
these can cast doubt on the reaUty of tables as I perceive them. 

The paradigm for the reahty of such objects as "tables" is found 
in the world of direct perception. It is altogether misleading to 
apply the vocabulary of one realm to another. This would be 
easily seen in the reverse case if someone were to try to cast 
doubt on the reality of atoms and electrons on the ground that 
they cannot be perceived. The "reality" of atoms and electrons is 
the reality they have for scientific discourse; their use in science 
is the paradigm of their reality and it would be foolish indeed to 
reprobate them because they are not real as are objects of per- 
ception. Conversely, it is absurd to reprobate language about the 
reality of perceptual objects on the ground that science does not 
find it appropriate. 

Stebbing's point is easy to see and she reiterates it enthusias- 
tically. Language derives its meaning from ordinary usage; the 
fact that it has such meaning is given in its usage and the fact that 
it must apply to something is also clear, since it derives its mean- 
ing from so applying. I must mean something by "chair," "table," 
"house," "red," "sweet," "solid," etc., for I use the words, and 
the reality of the referent is given in this use of the word. There- 
fore, the word cannot be used to cast doubt on the reality of its 
object. Thus Stebbing roundly rebuts Eddington's amusing account 
of the difference between the experience of the ordinary man and 
the scientist in the adventure of walking through a doorway: 

I am standing on a threshold about to enter a room. It is a compli- 
cated business. In the first place I must shove against an atmosphere 
pressing with a force of fourteen pounds on every square inch of my 
body. I must make a landing on a plank travelling at twenty miles a 
second around the sun — a fraction of a second too early or too late. 

The Problem of Perception: I 97 

the plank would be miles away . . . The plank has no solidity of 
substance. To step on it is like stepping on a swarm of flies. Shall I 
not slip through? etc.^*' 

This is mere obfuscation, in Stebbing's eyes. For what we mean 
by "solid" is precisely derived from our experience of such things 
as planks as solid. If they aren't solid, then what do we mean by 
solid? The question of the "solidity" of anything lives off the 
paradigmatic perceptual experience and it is nonsensical to try to 
question whether it really applies to the objects of that experience. 
I do not even know what I am talking about, if it does not apply. 

2) Ostensive Signification 

This view could apparently be generalized to the assertion that 
I cannot consistently question the "reality" of the objects of ordi- 
nary experience, for the paradigmatic meaning of reality is dis- 
covered in perceptual experience, and if they are not real, then I 
do not even know what I mean by reality. Something like this is 
done by other writers, of whose views the version of Martin Lean 
is a good and convenient representative.^^ 

His counterattack is against Broad's claim that we never experi- 
ence objects, but only sense data, and that ordinary language 
contains unverifiable hypotheses about the items of experience. 
Lean will have none of this, contending that it is simply based on 
an erroneous view of language. What we directly perceive is just 
what common sense believes us to perceive — ^public, independent 
objects. He insists that language is completely ostensive and can 
contain no unrecognized hypotheses and point to no unobserv- 
ables. Its meaning is in its usage: a word in itself is only a sound, 
and we confer meaning on it by the way we use it. Therefore, 
the word "physical object" must have a valid reference, for it is a 
word in perfectly good English usage. Nobody can question the 
common-sense conviction that we reaUy perceive objects unless he 

36 Eddington, op. cit., p. 342. 

37 Martin Lean, Sense Perception and Matter (New York: Humanities' 
Press), 1963, pp. 16-24. 

98 The Philosophy of Knowledge] 

thinks he has some privileged meaning for the word "object." But I 
if object means anything, it means something that can be pointed 
to in experience, for the whole meaning of language is conferred ) 
on it by its pointing to experience. If it were not to point to ! 
experience it would have no meaning; if it does have a meaning, 
it does point to experience — and hence its mere use validates the i 
reality of that to which it points. 

There is no doubt a very genuine attractiveness about this way 
of stating things, for the tantalizing nature of the problem of per- 
ception does at length generate the thought that there is something 
fishy about it. We are prone to say, "Well, after all, what would 
an object be which did carry the earmark of its own objectivity? 
Where do I get the privileged idea of objectivity by means of 
which I can question the objectivity of that of which I am now 
aware? If these tables and chairs are not objective, what would it 
mean for me to be aware of what is objective?" There seems, 
then, a genuine component to this view. And yet there are marks 
against it. For one thing, it is clear that a version such as Lean's 
rests on a completely ostensive theory of language. It is question- 
able whether such a theory can mean anything more by the word 
"object" than the phenomenalist means. In order to do so, it 
would have to be able to point to more than the phenomenahst 
can point to. The argument between Lean and Broad would seem 
to turn on the unresolved, and in effect unrecognized, dispute as 
to what exactly the notion of a physical object entails and how 
much of it can be simply verified in sense perception. Broad is 
equivalently holding that there are conceptual elements involved 
in the notion of an object and that therefore what is given to the 
senses is not an object but something (sense data) on the basis 
of which we infer or construct the notion of an object. Lean 
simply begins with the common-sense conviction that we do per- 
ceive objects and tries to defend this conviction, while remaining 
within the confines of his ostensive theory of language. He wiU 
say, against Broad, for instance, that we do not merely see a 
surface or a temporal shce, we see "something which" has a 

The Problem of Perception: I 99 

surface and duration. The question is, however, in what way it 
can be claimed that we see a "something which." Actually a com- 
pletely ostensive theory of language would find it hard to dis- 
tinguish its meaning for object from the phenomenahst's. 

If the analyst preferred to put his emphasis not on the vahdity 
of the word object, but simply on the appropriateness of the two 
vocabularies, he might avoid making the claim that the word 
object means more than the phenomenalist means, but he would 
do so at the penalty of allowing the two vocabularies to stand side 
by side in a completely unresolved manner. This gambit has the 
effect of suppressing the problem altogether. For now there is no 
problem of how the world of science and the world of common 
sense are compatible; there are no longer two "worlds" or two 
kinds of entity, but one experience described in two languages. 
This treats language as purely conventional and neglects the extra- 
linguistic reference. But the language through which we refer to 
experience under the name "table" and "atom" may not seem to 
aU to differ only conventionally. The difference seems to have a 
real foundation, and the question of the relation between them to 
be a real question. To allow them to coexist in a merely juxta- 
posed manner seems more a matter of refusing to raise the ques- 
tion of their relation than proving that there is no question. 

As a matter of fact, Stebbing reaUy does specify further the 
nature of the relation between the two languages. For she treats, 
as do many others, such things as "atoms" and "scientific laws" 
as conventional statements about the formal relations of perceived 
entities. ^^ Atoms are not special kinds of perceptual entities but 
pegs on which to hang perceptual statements. On this view it is 
scientific language which has a somewhat secondary status. For 
the objects of science turn out to be not invisible "things," which 
causally generate the perception of the perceived data (as repre- 
sentationaMsm holds) but formalizations introduced to facilitate 
the expression of the orderly connection between perceptual enti- 

38 Stebbing, op. cit., pp. 65/66, 78-91. 

100 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

ties — constructions. They must have "reality" in a way parallel ! 
to the reality of physical objects: They are meaningfully utilized I 
in language and are real to the exact extent and in the exact man- 
ner that the language employing them requkes. Perceptual lan- 
guage is ostensive, and so perceptual objects are "real" as osten- 
sively indicatable; scientific language is formal, and scientific 
entities are "real" as constructions which make the formal laws of 
science possible. 

But I immediately bog down in confusion if I think of the 
reality of perceptual objects by the methods of science, or try to 
validate the objects of science by means of perception, or if I try 
to compare the two. I cannot compare the incomparable. I cannot 
compare the color blue to the formula ttt^, for the one is a per- 
ceptual entity and the other a formal rule. Note that this approach 
tends to regard perceptual objects as more primarily real, and to 
consider scientific entities as abstractions. While it has found 
considerable favor among scientists themselves, one cannot escape 
a certain queasiness in accepting it as the definitive solution. 

3) Wittgenstein, Ryle, and "Ordinary Language" 

Perhaps the best known and most fascinating attempt to deal 
with philosophical problems in terms of the primacy of "ordinary 
language" is that of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein agrees that 
problems like the drflSculty about perception arise out of language 
and he views philosophical analysis principally as a "therapy" 
which will bring to light and dissolve these linguistic neuroses. In 
this therapeutic process, ordinary language must occupy a place 
of primacy, for it is from it that our words derive their meaning. 
Yet he cannot rest content with a simple "ostensive theory" of 
meaning, which is entirely too short-sighted. No doubt meaning 
derives from use and a word means just what we use it to mean. 
But the "uses" of words go far beyond simple pointing; try grasp- 
ing the meaning of "if" or "but" ostensively, for example. To ask 
what a word is is similar to asking what a certain piece is in the 

The Problem of Perception: I 101 

game of chess. ^^ A pawn simply is what it does in the game of 
chess; it has no properties occult or latent besides the ones which 
fit it for its role in the game. Analogously, a word is what it does 
in the game of language. 

Of course, one could think of variant language-games, and 
Wittgenstein amuses himself by doing so, but ordinary language 
has a primacy because it is the game we all play. Words are more 
complicated pieces, just as language is a more complicated game, 
but the bewildering diversity of their uses is no more mysterious 
than the fact that things which are all equally "tools" can do 
such bewilderingly different things. *° "The" meaning of a word — 
even of a single word — is a chimera: a word is everything it does. 

Wittgenstein's view has relevance for the problem of perception, 
since this can be regarded as arising from a failure to appreciate 
the diverse manner in which words signify. One who imagines 
that ordinary-language words and scientific words "signify" or 
mean in the same way will find himself faced with the exasperating 
problem of which ones signify the "real" object: the words (and 
their presumed targets) will be in competition with each other. 
But once we realize that the language-games of science and of 
common speech are quite different affairs, we will be no more 
inclined to feel that we must decide between them than to feel 
that we must decide which is the real queen of spades — the poker, 
pinochle, or hearts queen. 

In a similar manner, Gilbert Ryle denies the right of the scien- 
tist to derogate the reahty of secondary qualities and to claim that 
reality can be described only in terms of the primary qualities 
which he himself finds useful.*^ For the truth of the matter is that 

39 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans, by G. E. 
M. Anscombe (a bi-lingual edition) (Oxford: Basil Blackwell), 1953, p. 

40 Ibid., p. 6. 

4^ Gilbert Ryle, Dilemmas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 
1960, pp. 82-85. 

1 02 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

scientific words do not function in the same manner as ordinary- 
language words. They do not describe at all. A physicist's view of 
nature differs from the ordinary man's in somewhat the same way 
that an accountant's view of a university differs from the under- 
graduate's.*^ If the accountant is thorough enough, everything in 
the undergraduate's world wiU be referred to by him, but this does 
not make them competitive, and certainly doesn't turn the under- 
graduate's world into a bubble compared to the true reality. Thus, 
there are not two books, the librarian's and the accountant's, side 
by side. A balance-sheet must be constitutionally speechless about 
some things; it does not describe at all, and what is reached 
descriptively must remain inaccessible to it. Just so, the physical 
theorists neither describe ordinary tables and chairs nor rivals to 
them — they don't describe at all. Actually the language of the 
physicist presupposes the world of the ordinary man, and the real 
question is not which is real, but "How are the concepts of physical 
theory logically related to the concepts of everyday discourse?"*^ 
It must be said in favor of approaches like Wittgenstein's and 
Ryle's that they seem to afford a breath of fresh air, and one that 
often does seem to come from the mouth of an escape-tunnel. 
Some genuine promise is undoubtedly held out by linguistic 
analysis. And yet of themselves they do not impress as sufficient 
anyone who is not prepared to regard the entire problem of per- 
ception (and indeed of philosophy at large) as a matter of the 
way in which we use words. Not many would be prepared to 
concede this much, for language in some way is felt to be a 
window opening beyond itself; these approaches tend to pull the 
shades and turn it inward. Even after we untie the linguistic 
knots, the question is still left over: what is the character of the 
reahty which allows itself to be the subject of such diverse 

^2 Ibid., p. 75 ss. 
^3 Ibid., p. 91. 



Before considering some typical Scholastic opinions on sense 
perception, we may briefly re-iterate the position of naive realism. 
The latter holds that in perception we are immediately aware of 
objects other than ourselves; that these objects are "public" in the 
sense that numerically the same object is perceptible by an in- 
definite plurality of observers; that these objects are permanent 
entities which exist as such when we are not perceiving them; and 
finally that in their independent existence they have the same 
qualities which they present to perception. The habitual presump- 
tion is, then, that my act of perceiving makes no difference at all 
to the perceived object, that it has no hand in constituting what 
I perceive, but that it reaches this object just as it is in itself. The 
features of extension, motion, resistance, color, sound, taste, 
warmth, and so forth, which I perceive, are there when I do not 
perceive them. 

Now while there are philosophers who defend most or all of 
these convictions of common sense, it probably would not be 
accurate to refer to these philosophers as "naive realists." For the 
essence of philosophy is reflection, and the essence of naive 
realism is unreflecting taking-for-gr anted; so that even when cer- 
tain statements about experience coincide, the philosophical realist 
is always a "critical" realist in the sense of not being "naive." 
But consequent upon their critical scrutiny of common sense, some 
Scholastic philosophers find it necessary to make more emenda- 

104 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

tions than others in the naive realism of our everyday convictions. 
Certain basic points are common to the standard Scholastic treat- 
ment of this subject, however, and as a preliminary to the main 
issue, they should be noted. 

First of all, there is the elementary observation that the problem 
cannot be argued in terms of the "errors" of the senses, for the 
senses do not "err" at all. The question of the truth or falsity of 
perception is a question which takes us beyond sensation itself. 
For the same reason that the senses do not, properly speaking, 
contain "truth," they cannot be charged with falsehood. Sensation 
does not judge — it merely reports on data immediately present to 
it. The possibility of error only arises with judgment, for judgment 
asserts something about the datum immediately present to sensa- 
tion, and what it asserts may be either so or not so. Until there 
is assertion, there is not, in a full sense, any "deception." We 
speak of the senses "deceiving us" — in the case of optical illusions, 
or shades of color, for example — but this is an abbreviated way of 
speaking. If I judge that one line is longer than another, and it is 
not, I err; but my senses, which simply grasp the visual appear- 
ance, do not err. Error will be found to consist in going beyond 
immediate data of sensation and falsely going beyond. 

A judgment which confined itself to a mere expression of what 
was immediately present to sensation would also be immune from 
error. If I were to content myself with reporting that "this line 
appears longer than the other to me," this would be no error but 
simple truth — it really does appear longer. When the color-bhnd 
person is charged with having defective sensation, the charge is 
really levelled against his judgment. His sensation merely reports 
what he is now experiencing. He really is experiencing a red 
datum. But when he judges, he spontaneously goes beyond the 
immediate report of the senses and declares "This patch of cloth 
is red"; this means that he talks about an object which is public 
and which possesses for everyone the property which he is experi- 
encing. If he were to confine his judgment to the datum itself, he 
would say "I am now experiencing a red datum," and he would 

The Problem of Perception: II 105 

not be wrong. The point is that our judgment always spontane- 
ously takes us beyond the immediate, our assertion outruns the 
sensation, and the gap between the scope of the judgment and the 
report of the senses is what makes error possible. This is an 
obvious remark, but it quickly calls our attention to the fact that 
the whole question about the "objectivity" of sense perception 
cannot be settled in terms of perception alone. 

Of course, we may still charge the senses with "error," meaning 
that they present us with data on the basis of which we are misled 
into judging erroneously. It is with this in mind that a second 
standard point is usually made by Scholastics regarding the "con- 
ditions" of a reliable act of perception. Given the physico-physio- 
logical setting of sensation, it is suggested that we must recognize 
that certain requirements have to be met before we can rely on 
our sense experience to give trustworthy testimony. Sensation 
appears to involve a stimulation of a bodily organ, by a physical 
object, through a medium of action, and certain conditions are 
requisite on the part of all these elements. The object must be 
properly proportioned to our kind of senses: infra-red colors or 
microscopic objects are not so proportioned; nor are sensible 
objects which are too distant or otherwise unfavorably given. 
Secondly, the organ of sense must be a normal and healthy one. 
Flagrant failures to fulfill this condition are found in the case of 
bhndness, deafness, or color-blindness; but there are more mod- 
erate damages possible, including temporary aberrations, such as 
the morbid state of a sick man's palate because of which his taste 
sensation is distorted, or the abnormal condition of an eardrum 
which has just suffered a heavy blow. Finally, since the object is 
perceived through a medium, the proper medium for this per- 
ception must be present: color is properly perceived in sunlight, 
rather than under a photographer's red-lamp, sound, in the open 
air rather than underwater. Oddities like the bent appearance of 
a partially submerged oar may be explained from this direction: 
the oar is being perceived through a duahty of media — air and 
water — in which the behavior of hght varies. 

106 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

As a third preliminary, we may cite the familiar distinction 
between proper and common sensibles. Proper sensibles are those 
data which are perceived by one sense alone: color, sound, odor, 
for example. Common sensibles are those which can be presented 
to more than one sense: extension and motion (which can be 
perceived by sight and touch, and perhaps other senses). This 
distinction is deemed to be useful in explaining various common 
sensory illusions. For when we perceive and judge of a common 
sensible by employing one sense alone, we seem to be quite liable 
to error. Thus, the man who "perceives" that the railroad tracks 
converge on the horizon is judging about shape (a common 
sensible) by means of sight alone; so, too, with the perception of 
the oar bent in water. That is why the child who plays the game 
of closing his eyes and guessing what objects are by means of 
their "feel" alone is easily mixed up. The correction for these 
errors is correspondingly simple, since if we dehberately test our 
single-sense observations by bringing the other senses into play, 
we soon set things to right. 

Considerations like this serve a purpose in clearing the air of 
a certain initial confusion. But it must be emphasized that they by 
no means advance the philosophical understanding of perception 
very far. For they all take place within the common-sense con- 
ception of sensation and its object, and they leave quite untouched 
the question of the status of the object which is reached in sense 
perception. Reference to the conditions required for perception or 
to the distinction between the proper and common sensibles may 
help to explain some practical puzzles which arise for common 
sense, but it bears within it assumptions of a quite obscure sort. 
What exactly is meant by a "normal" organ, or a "proper" 
medium? Does this refer to anything more than the way a standard 
observer perceives? Why is the standard observer convinced that 
the green he sees in the carpet is really there and the red which 
the color-blind person sees is not? Because his organ of sight is 
normal. Which means what? That most people see things the way 
he does? Yet this does not touch at aU the question of the status of 
what is seen. 

The Problem of Perception: II 107 

The phenomenalist could make the same distinction between 
normal and deviant within his framework: what is perceived is 
not independent of the perceiver, but most perceivers see things 
in this way, so this consensus is used as a standard. What is 
*'objective," on phenomenaMst grounds, is decided by what agrees 
with this usual way of perceiving things. But then this distinction 
doesn't advance us one inch towards validating the independent 
existence of perceived data; it is a distinction which could be 
made either within the phenomenalist or the realist assumption. 

The same thing can be said of the distinction between proper 
and common sensibles. This amounts to little more than an 
admonition of how to avoid being led into certain errors based on 
perception. But the avoidance of sensory error is a practical 
question, not a philosophical one. It only becomes philosophical 
when the existence of error recoils upon the status of the "correct" 
datum. By seeing how certain errors arise, I further very littie my 
philosophical grasp of perception (I am benefited only to the 
extent that I am freed from the worry that the railroad tracks 
really do come together, if that happened to be bothering me). 
The philosophical question is: if the datum which is given to me 
in perception is susceptible to this kind of deviant presentation, 
then precisely what is its status? 

This question can be raised about the data given in "correct" 
perception, as weU as erroneous perception. When I claim that my 
color perception is right and the color-blind person's wrong, am I 
merely rejoicing in the support I get from the views of the 
majority (and scorning him as a non-conformist) or am I saying 
something about the reality of color? What exactiy is the proper 
medium for viewing the color of an object? Normal sunUght, we 
may say. But does that mean sunlight at noon, at dawn, at sunset, 
at three o'clock on an overcast day, at 10:52 on a windy morn- 
ing, or what? Some might say that the variations are neghgible, 
but they can only mean by this that they make no practical dif- 
ference, which is not in dispute. We are all familiar with the series 
of paintings which the impressionist Monet made of the cathedral 
of Rouen, depicting the wealth of subtle color-changes which the 

108 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

cathedral exhibited as the day progressed. Now which of these 
was the real color of the cathedral? 


Questions hke the foregoing arouse the suspicion that we are 
putting things wrongly. Maybe in dealing with something like 
color, we should not even be asking which is the "real" color of 
the object. That might involve us in the seemingly impossible 
attempt to single out which of our numberless color-perceptions 
of a certain object was "right," all the others being presumably 
not quite right. There is something very dissatisfying about this 
way of speaking. This dissatisfaction leads many a philosopher to 
the conclusion that in dealing with such data as color, we are not 
dealing with intrinsic properties of the object at all, but with data 
which are essentially relational. On this view, we should not ask 
what color an object is "in itself," because the datum of color 
already entails a reference to an observer and to the conditions 
under which his observation occurs. "The" color of an object is 
an abstraction: there is only the color viewed in some relational 
context by a viewer situated at a certain perspective within that 
context. When we have said "color," we already have spoken of 
a reference to a perceiver and of the conditions of his perceiving; 
therefore we should not go on to ask which is the "real" color of 
an object. This seems to be hke asking how this object would look 
to an observer who was situated nowhere and for whom there were 
no conditions of his seeing — a question of doubtful validity. Color, 
say these philosophers, is a relational reality. It is the face which 
the world presents to a given observer under given conditions. 

As with color, so with other sensible properties. What shall we 
say of sound, taste, warmth, odor? Very much the same thing. 
They are not intrinsic properties of an object in total isolation 
from an observer, but data which are present in the interaction of 
object and observer. Sound is a datum which is there for the 
consciousness of an observer in interaction with the world. Then 

The Problem of Perception: II 109 

the lamented tree which falls in the middle of the forest falls 
soundlessly, since sound is the consciously experienced side of an 
interaction, and where the interaction is missing, sound is missing. 
Such is the view of those philosophers, among them many Scholas- 
tics, who hold what may be called "critical virtual realism." This 
is the position that sensed qualities are fully objective only for 
consciousness, and only virtually objective independently of con- 
sciousness. This is to be contrasted with naive realism and with 
"critical formal realism," which holds that sensed qualities are 
formally objective independent of all conscious experience. The 
latter holds that the precise formality of color, sound, taste, exten- 
sion, motion, and the rest, are present even when consciousness 
is not going on. Now this is what virtual reahsm denies. If the 
full meaning of color or sound entails a reference to an observer, 
then it cannot be formally realized apart from that reference. 

On this view, we would have to say that the grass is not for- 
mally green outside of experience, stones hard, flowers redolent, 
sugar sweet, or sounds loud. What this view does should be clearly 
understood. It reduces the world outside of consciousness to a 
qualitatively barren state. It does not, however, introduce com- 
plete arbitrariness into perception. For it holds that while these 
qualities are not formally present beyond perception, still they are 
virtually present. That is, there is a power in the object inde- 
pendently of perception which accounts for the formality which is 
present when perception occurs. Why do I perceive grass as green, 
lemon as bitter, roses as sweet-smelling? Obviously this is not a 
matter of whim. Then there is some determination in the object 
which, in interrelation with my sensory organ, gives rise to my 
experience of these data and not to others. It is quite conceivable, 
however, that this same objective determination might, in inter- 
relation with an observer with different sensory organs and under 
different perceptual conditions, generate the experience of a for- 
mally different datum for his consciousness. 

One or two explanatory points should be made. First, let it be 
remembered that virtual realism wants still to be regarded as an 

110 The Philosophy of Knowledge \ 

immediate realism, and in no way an indirect realism. That is, it| 
is not denying that in knowing we immediately know a non-self. 
There is no pretense that I first know my own "idea" and then '■ 
have to argue to the fact that an object corresponds to it. What I ! 
know is not a subjective modification of myself. It is an object. 
This rose here, red, soft, and sweet, is an object, not a collection 
of my ideas; the green of the grass is objective, and so is the \ 
sound of the locomotive. In knowing, then, I am immediately i 
beyond the sphere of my own individual self. True, the data under j 
discussion are only formally objective for perception, but they ' 
are formally objective for perception. To say that color, sound, 
taste, odor, are relationally objective is not to say that they are 
subjective. I 

This is where virtual realism differs from the theory of John 
Locke. Locke held that the secondary quahties were, as experi- 
enced, "ideas," and hence subjective, and he then had to cope 
with the problem of how well these ideas resembled the quality in 
the object. Now this may well have been a deficiency in his own 
way of stating things, and he may have been driving at a point 
quite similar to the virtual realists. But the fact remains that on 
his view as expressed in his own language, he does not think that 
we immediately know objects. The critical virtual realists hold 
that awareness is always of the other and does not reach this other 
inferentiaUy. Nor do they have to ask whether the sensed data 
"resemble" the object as it exists un-sensed; formally objective 
qualities do not resemble virtually objective qualities. What is real 
apart from sensation is an object which is determinate and sens- 
ible (able to be sensed) and a determinate subject which is capable 
of sensing: consciousness is the actuahzation both of the capacity 
of the subject for sensing and the capacity of the object for being 
sensed. As such, it is not something "subjective," but the actuali- 
zation of an object's presence to a subject. 

Secondly, and very importandy, attention must be caUed to the 
way in which this position has been presented. The reader will 

The Problem of Perception: II III 

have noticed that the entire discussion has centered around the 
secondary qualities or "proper sensibles." It is these qualities 
which the virtual realist has declared to be only virtually objective. 
The natural question is why he has made this statement exclusively 
in respect to them, and exempted the primary qualities from his 
conclusion. Why does he allow formal objectivity to these inde- 
pendent of consciousness, and refrain from extending his reason- 
ing to include them? Two points may be made in answer. 

a) The feeling is that the relational character of a datum is only 
a reason to doubt its intrinsic objectivity if there is a relation of 
heterogeneity between perceiving organ and perceived object. In 
such a case, where the organ is different in nature from the object, 
then this difference wiU be a cause for distortion and militate 
against the intrinsic character of the perceived datum. Thus, the 
datum of color is perceived by the eye and neural apparatus; but 
there is no likeness between the color-datum red and the optical 
apparatus: the eye, nerves, and cortex, are not red. Or a sound as 
heard has no similarity to an ear-drum, which is not itself "like" 
a sound. But in the case of extension and motion, there is no such 
heterogeneity, but rather a homogeneity between perceiving organ 
and perceived object. Thus, the hand by means of which I per- 
ceive the extension of the table-top is extended in the same general 
way as is the table-top. Therefore the fact that I perceive extension 
by means of an organ introduces no distortion into perception, 
for there is a homogeneity in respect to the perceived quality. 
This homogeneity introduces an invincible conviction of objectivity 
into my perceptions, for I can run my hand along the table-top 
and perceive a continual coincidence between organ and object. 
Therefore, although these data, too, might in a way be said to be 
"relational," the relation does not detract from their formal objec- 
tivity. That is why Van Steenberghen, who makes a great deal of 
this point, wiU say that not every conceivable knower would have 
to experience objects with the secondary qualities they present to 
us, but that for any and aU knowers, the primary qualities would 

112 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

be in the object: even for an angelic knower, there would objec- 
tively be a distance between Louvain and Brussels.^ 

b) Secondly, some Scholastic authors rely on the fact that 
science gives us no reason to doubt the objectivity of primary 
qualities. This is in contrast to the view of science on secondary 
qualities, which it finds quite dispensable. What underlies this 
second view is the recognition that for immediate consciousness 
many, if not all, qualities are experienced as objective: the green 
of the grass is experienced as just as much a quality of the object 
as its extension, for example. Therefore, the only reason we have 
to doubt the objectivity of any quality is that this doubt is imposed 
upon us by some other facet of our knowledge or experience. But 
science has succeeded in demonstrating that phenomena of color, 
sound, and the other secondary qualities can be understood by 
considering bodies as atomic structures in contact through an 
electromagnetic medium with my physiological body; at no point 
do the secondary qualities enter into this description. They are 
causally explained as arising from the interaction of entities which 
are sufficiently conceived without their aid. And so many philos- 
ophers draw the conclusion that there is nothing to be said against 
the objectivity of primary qualities and a great deal to be said 
against that of secondary qualities. They accept the scientific 
picture as hard-core philosophical datum. Fr. Gustave Weigel will 
say, for instance, that the scientific view makes speculation in this 
area unnecessary.^ R. J. Hirst is not inclined to put forth much 
effort in behalf of secondary qualities because "science has no 
need of them."^ Other authors tell us* that science gives no ground 
to doubt the objectivity of primary qualities, implying the decisive- 
ness of the scientific outlook for epistemology. 

1 Van Steenberghen, op. cit., p. 217. 

2 Gustave Weigel, S.J., and Arthur Madden, Knowledge, Its Values and 
Limits (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall), 1961, p. 19. 

^ Op. cit., p. 318. 

4 Joseph D. Hassett, SJ., Robert A. Mitchell, S.J., J. Donald Monan, 
S.J., The Philosophy of Human Knowing (Westminster, Md.: Newman 
Press), 1955, p. 151. 

The Problem of Perception: II 113 


Critical virtual realism decides the problem of perception by 
holding that in spatial qualities I know what formally belongs to 
the object as it is in itself apart from perception, while in second- 
ary qualities, I know what is only virtually in the object apart 
from perception. The virtual realist will be seen to begin habitually 
with the assumption that perception is the work of a bodily con- 
sciousness, that it takes place by means of the causality of sensory 
organs. Now whoever begins with this as an assumption is not so 
much validating the objectivity of primary quahties as he is 
assuming it. For a sensory organ is a spatial organ, and if we begin 
by assuming that perception is caused by spatial organs, then our 
question has been answered before it has hardly been raised.'' 
Some might protest that this is a justified procedure, since there is 
no way of getting behind the role of the sensory organs in con- 
sciousness; in epistemology we must begin somewhere, and that 
will turn out to be with the role of the organs in sensation. With- 
out even striving to settle the legitimacy of this stand, we only wish 
to point out that any one who does begin here has obviously 
already granted spatial qualities a formally real status: if spatial 
organs are at the origin of perception, then they must be formally 
real independent of perception. 

Consequently, it is not even necessary for these apologists to go 
on to raise arguments in favor of the formal reality of the primary 
quahties. One who believes that sensory organs play a causal role 
in perception must be referring to the sensory organs that we are 
all familiar with — and these are spatial. Given this, it is not at all 
necessary to show that because there is homogeneity between 
organ and object no distortion is introduced into perception. For 

5 Of course, the problem of secondary qualities might also be regarded 
as finished with at this point, since our meaning for "sensory organ" nor- 
mally includes secondary qualities, and hence an assertion of the role of 
the body might be thought to include as part of its meaning the contribu- 
tion of the secondary qualities involved in identifying a "sensory organ." 

114 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

once consciousness is seen as originating in an interaction between 
organ and object the formally spatial character of both of these : 
is assumed. Otherwise, when Van Steenberghen shows^ the homo- 
geneity between hand and table in respect to extension, he would j 
merely be correlating two objects of consciousness; that two ob- 
jects of consciousness have a homogeneity would of itself prove ' 
nothing about what is true independently of consciousness. In ; 
order for his point to have weight about a reality "in itself" apart j 
from consciousness, he must already believe that consciousness ■ 
originates in this spatial contact, that the hand of which he speaks 
is not simply an object of consciousness but an organ by which 
consciousness is generated — and hence he must assume that this 
spatial organ is real, independent of consciousness. Likewise, when 
he speaks of the lack of homogeneity between the eye and color, i 
this could only be evidence against the objectivity of color if he \ 
assumes that the eye of famiUar conscious experience is causally ' 
involved in the production of vision; but this assumes at least its 
formally spatial reality. In other words, the virtual realists are 
posing the whole question of sense qualities within a context which 
simply takes for granted extension as a formal reality independent 
of conscious experience altogether. 

Sometimes it appears that the virtual realists are exerting stren- 
uous efforts to prove that the objects of perception are formally 
extended — a fact which does not need proving at all. It is evident 
that the desk, the piece of paper, the rock, which is the object of 
my perception is in itself, as such, extended. No argument is 
needed to bring that out. But it is also evident that the objects of 
perception are colored, sounding, and odorous. This piece of paper 
which I perceive is not only rectangular but white; this grass which 
I perceive is not only two inches high but green. No argument 
either proves or disproves that, since it is given. Then what has 
Van Steenberghen proved which warrants his statement that not 
every knower would have to perceive this grass as green, but that 

6 Op. cit., pp. 215-217, 222-223. 

The Problem of Perception: II 115 

every knower would have to perceive it as extended? What grass 
is he talking about? If he is talking about this grass, the object of 
perception, then it is a tautology to say that every observer would 
have to experience this grass as green, for part of the reality of 
this perceived grass is its greenness. Anyone who does not perceive 
that is not perceiving this grass but something else. Does he, per- 
haps, mean not this perceptually present grass but the object inde- 
pendent of perception which presents itself to me perceptually as 
green? In that case, perhaps there is no assurance that this object 
as unrelated to consciousness is green — but is there any more 
reason to think that it is extended? Just because, as given to con- 
sciousness it is extended, seems no guarantee that, as not given to 
consciousness, it is extended. The hand which I perceive and the 
desk which I perceive are both objects for consciousness; that 
they are both extended does not apparently prove anything about 
either hand or desk apart from consciousness. If he pleads that this 
takes too disembodied a view of consciousness, that perceptual 
consciousness is the work of a sensory organ, then he is no longer 
arguing but treating this as an irreducible beginning. 

It would seem that the virtual reaUst must make up his mind 
either to go the whole way with his view or else to treat it not as 
a conclusion but as an irreducible premise. That is, if the data 
given to perception are really relational data, then perhaps there 
is reason to think that they are all relational data, and do not 
inform us at aU about how objects are apart from their relation 
to consciousness. There is no compelling reason to stop with the 
secondary qualities which does not already assume the right to 
stop with the secondary qualities. It therefore comes down to a 
question of which "object" the virtual realist is talking about. If 
j he is referring to the perceived object, then all qualities are for- 
mally in the perceived object precisely as they are experienced as 
being; if he is talking about the object independent of perception, 
there seems to be no sufficient reason for saying that any perceived 
quality is there. 

In other words, if virtual reahsm goes to the end in its reason- 

116 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

ing, it is very likely to wind up in the position of Immanuel Kant.'' j 
Kant's view is based on his distinction between noumena and 
phenomena. The noumenon is reality in itself, the phenomenon 
reality as it presents itself to consciousness. Since human knowl- 
edge is not in toto creative of its object, Kant assumes that it is 
legitimate to speak of reality as it is in itself, apart from all rela- 
tion to consciousness. But every conceivable consciousness (human 
or otherwise) is a definite kind of consciousness, with a deter- 
minate structure. Reality as it presents itself to a knower must, 
then, present itself according to the conditions under which he can 
know. Whatever determines his manner of knowing also deter- 
mines to that extent the manner in which objects are known by 
him. Turning to human knowledge, Kant found that the a priori 
forms (or structural determinations constituting my consciousness 
independent of all actual content) which specify my kind of know- 
ing are the forms of space and time. What determines my way of 
knowing is that whatever I know I must know spatially and tem- 
porally. Any reality which cannot be present in this way, is never 
present to my consciousness, and so is never known; conversely, 
any reality which is present to my consciousness must conform to 
the conditions under which something can be present, and hence 
must be known spatially and temporally. 

Underlying experience is a noumenal subject and a noumenal 
objective ground. Experience is the product of a relation between 
these two (which must forever remain inexplicable). Everything 
present to my experience is phenomenal. This word must not 
mislead us. Kant does not mean to signify that it is "illusory" or 
"deceptive," but only that it is reality as present according to the 
conditions of my manner of knowing. In knowing phenomena, I 
know objects, not illusions, or merely subjective occurrences. The 
rocks, trees, water, animals, people whom I experience are real, 
just as real as the self of my experience, but they are phenomenally 
real. That is, the qualities which I find in them are objective, not 

'^ Without, of course, necessarily subscribing to the full range of Kantian 
philosophy, in particular his metaphysics. 

The Problem of Perception: II 117 

subjective — but they are objective in them as phenomena. That is 
why the accusation of some that Kant has a "subjective" theory 
of space is misguided. Space is subjective as a jorm of our know- 
ing, but it is objective in the sense that it informs every object of 
my experience. Space is real in the sense that it is a qualification 
of human experience: the objects I experience really are spatial. 
What about noumena? Here no answer is possible. The noumenon 
is the trans-experiential objective ground of my experiencing 
things the way I do, and because it is trans-experiential, I can say 
nothing about it. What I mean by space is this indicatable feature 
of my phenomenal experience; as long as there is human experi- 
ence, there is space. Whether the noumenal ground which is ex- 
perienced by me in a spatial manner could be presented in another 
manner to another knower, I cannot say. 

Once experience is viewed as phenomenal in this way, the dis- 
tinction between primary and secondary qualities loses much of its 
point. What is given to me perceptually is experienced as fully 
real: this grass is green, sweet, smooth, extended, moving. All 
these properties are real exactly as they are experienced as being 
real: formally where they are experienced as being. What about 
the grass apart from experience? This is a confused question. This 
grass precisely is the grass as experienced, and it makes no sense 
to ask about it apart from experience. If I mean what about the 
noumenal ground of this perceptual experience, apart from experi- 
ence, then there is no more reason to think of it as extended than 
to think of it as having the secondary qualities. 

There is no clear reason why the virtual realists should check 
their reasoning short of a Kantian conclusion. If experienced data 
are relational, then it would appear correct to view them aU as 
relational. No argument seems to prevent this, but only the con- 
viction that our experience of ourselves as spatial is a rock-bottom 
inexplicable which reveals a datum that is real independent of all 
consciousness. Everything stands or falls on the truth of this con- 

The other reasoning which is at the basis of virtual reahsm's 

118 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

conferring of formal reality on the primary qualities may be more 
briefly handled, i.e., the scientific evidence which seems to lead in ', 
this direction. It cannot be too often reiterated that scientific data | 
cannot be decisive on this issue, for reasons which have already , 
been pointed out. No scientific statement can provide an ultimate 
ground for judging the nature of perception, for every scientific ' 
statement is built upon a perceptual foundation. It can have no : 
more objectivity than perception has, and cannot be used to test 
the fundamental objectivity of perception. The fact that science | 
has no need of secondary qualities and can confine its description 
of reahty to the quantitative language of the primary quafities does 
not establish either that secondary qualities are un-real or that 
the world independent of consciousness is characterized formally 
by primary quafities. 

The long-entrenched opinion to the contrary is now increasingly 
recognized as the hypostasizing of an abstraction. Because science 
left aside all secondary qualities and attended only to the quantita- 
tive aspect of reality, there grew up a propensity to treat this 
quantitative aspect as a "thing" or "collection of things" existing 
in itself. Part of the epistemological advance within science itself 
in recent times has consisted in recognizing the abstract character 
of its own way of conceiving reality and repudiating the projection 
of this abstraction as an autonomous reality. This repudiation was 
facifitated because the progress of scientific theory had finally 
reached the point where not only had science been able to dispense 
with the secondary qualities in its description of reality, but it now 
found itself denuding the object even of the primary qualities. 
Thus, Werner Heisenberg could say of the atom as it was con- 
ceived by a physical theory which he himself had been influential 
in bringing into being, that it had neither color, sound, nor 
extension, nor any of the qualities which the bodies of perceptual 
experience have.® It is now a matter of the most extreme perplexity 
to decide just what is the status of such an entity. Some regard it 

8 Werner Heisenberg, Philosophical Problems of Nuclear Science (New 
York: Pantheon), 1952, pp. 38, 86. 

The Problem of Perception: II 119 

as simply a logically conceived "x" which serves as a term of 
reference for a set of mathematical equations. The "scientific 
object," on these terms, is not a special entity, but a special way 
of regarding the famUiar objects of experience. Far from providing 
a sure basis for solving the problem of perception, this special 
procedure retains all the puzzles of perception, and stirs up a 
hornet's nest of its own. 


As some contribution towards the unravelling of an extremely 
tangled skein of puzzles, we may make the following basic sug- 
gestions : 

1) The fundamental obstacle to the decision as to whether 
"material objects exist unperceived" is that the meaning of that 
assertion is multivalently obscure. Strange as it may seem, after 
centuries of speculation, it would not be possible to get anything 
approaching a consensus of opinion as to what this statement 
means, much less whether it is true or false. Every single word 
in the statement contains an obscurity. We will concentrate prin- 
cipally on the notion of "object" which is at stake. In order for 
this statement to be true, what is it which the asserter thinks would 
have to be true about the "object" which is involved? What is this 
"object" which he claims to exist unperceived? Several points seem 

a) For judgmental consciousness, every datum is objective and 
independent. That is, my judgment experiences itself precisely as 
a complete self-effacement in favor of its object. The judgment is 
an awareness of itself as making no difference whatsoever to 
what is judged about.^ Whether I say "The table is round," "Two 
and two are four," or "I have a pain," the judgment effaces itself 

9 On the self-effacing character of judgment, see Maritain, op. cit., p. 
87, and a quite different kind of reahst thinker, the English philosopher 
H. A. Prichard, Knowledge and Perception (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 
1950, pp. 63, 204. 

120 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

altogether before its object. My pain is just as much objectively, 
there independently of my judgmental consciousness as is a table 
or a chair. We are in the habit of thinking of pain, joy, sorrow, 
and the like, as subjective experiences, but for the judging con- 
sciousness, they are found, there, other than itself as judging. 

b) For perceptual consciousness, every quality is just where it 
is experienced as being. This is a matter of direct experience. The 
green is, for perception, just where it is experienced — in what I 
call grass; the blue is in the sky; the gurgling in the brook; the 
scent in the rose. The only question that can be raised in this area 
is the psychological one of whether I am sure where I experience 
these quahties, and this is often obscure. Do I really experience 
the sweetness in the sugar — or do I experience it in my tongue, 
or do I experience it in the encounter between sugar and tongue? 
This is a factual question which may often be hard to answer. 
But wherever I do experience the quality, that is where it is, and 
nowhere else.^° 

From here on, things become less clear. For, my habitual con- 
viction is not simply that everything is objective in respect to judg- 
mental consciousness, but that the objects of perceptual conscious- 
ness are completely objective. Whence do I derive this conviction? 
What appears to happen is that my lived consciousness is integral, 
and that I assimilate the perceptual data to the independence of 
the objects of judgmental consciousness. That is, just as the object 
judged about is altogether independent of the act of judging, so 
the perceived object is posited as altogether other than the total 
consciousness which is aware of it. I assimilate perceiving to 

1* Suppose I experience the pain in an amputated limb? Even so, one 
of two things: 1) I really do experience it there — which cannot be de- 
clared an impossibility except by assuming that I cannot feel a pain where 
a bodily appendage no longer exists, which is only an assumption and 
exactly the assumption in question. (For a forceful exposition of this, 
see E. A. Burtt, op. cit., p. 315.) 2) I am psychologically mistaken in think- 
ing that I experience it there: I really experience it elsewhere and imme- 
diately interpret its location through past recollections. 

The Problem of Perception: U 121 

judging, and then the perceived object has the same independent 
status as the judged object. I then come to believe that if my 
individual perceiving consciousness were not there, the objects 
which I perceive would still be there exactly as they are for 

Endless difficulties are raised by this belief. Rather than attempt- 
ing to deal with them, let us only try to specify what is involved 
in this claim for the independence of perceptual objects. If I claim 
that tables, rocks, chairs, clouds, are there independently of indi- 
vidual perception, what do I want to assert? Are they there as 
they are for consciousness? But then I am hypostasizing the pure 
"outside" view, which is the one which is there for an observer. 
Are they there for themselves! But then they are not there as they 
are there for consciousness — for, for consciousness they are there 
for us. Furthermore, to speak of these things as being there "for 
themselves" is difficult to do in the case of tables, rocks, and 
clouds. The only way of being "for itself" that is clear to me is my 
own way — consciousness's way; surely, though, I don't quite mean 
that these objects are there for themselves as consciousness is there 
for itself. But how can they be there independent of all other 
consciousness without being in any way "for themselves"? 

We now begin to reahze that the epistemological assertion 
overflows into metaphysical territory. In order to assert fully that 
perceptual objects are independent of all individual consciousness, 
we ought to know what we mean by this assertion. Yet as soon as 
we try to spell out what we mean by it, we must theorize as to 
the nature of their independent existence. Are they something 
analogous to conscious selves, a la the monads of Leibniz? Are 
they data for an absolute experience, a la Hegel? Are they sub- 
stances, a la St. Thomas? The dire uncertainty in the face of all 
these questions may be utilized in bringing us to the reahzation of 
the limits of the self-contained character of the epistemological 
inquiry. To a large extent, we can separate the epistemological 
question from others, such as the metaphysical, but we eventually 

722 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

reach the limits of this separation. Unless I know what I mean by 
saying that "material objects exist unperceived" I cannot be said 
to know the truth of that statement in anything but a most rudi- 
mentary way. But in order to know what I mean, I must make an 
attempt to conceive the mode of existence of these independent 
objects, and then I am in a theory of being, rather than a theory 
of knowledge. 

It is not too much to say that the problem of perception remains 
the most unresolved in the whole of epistemology. In fact, it would 
be somewhat disingenuous to say anything else. A perpetual start- 
ing from scratch seems to afflict our inquiries here. This should 
not be taken as a defeat for thought, however, since the recogni- 
tion of this plight and the restless effort to surmount it is rather an 
indication of the genuinely philosophical limit-situation which we 
reach here. If we were to sum up what can be salvaged as episte- 
mological currency from a very fluid situation, we might list the 

1 ) Perceptual consciousness is never pure subjectivity. It always 
contains an actualization of the presence of a non-self as well as 
our own presence to ourselves. 

2) Perceptual consciousness never stands alone, but is always 
incorporated into the total relation to the other which includes 
elements which go beyond perception. 

3) Perceptual data always exist just exactly where they are 
experienced as existing. 

4) Perceptual consciousness seems to put us in contact with a 
multiplicity of non-selves; in so far as it is incorporated into a 
total acting consciousness, it presents us with multiple centers of 

How much further than this we can go with security is debat- 
able. A quite consistent picture of reality can be presented by a 
view which regards all perceptual objects as existing in their full 
and formal reality only for human consciousness. This could be 
done either in a Kantian manner, or by regarding perceptual 
objects as "events" which are there at the boundary of a subject- 

The Problem of Perception: II 123 

object encounter. There is a common tendency to do just that on 
the part of many contemporary thinkers. Some, like Merleau 
Ponty, will say that there is no sense contending that we reach 
the world as it exists "in itself," since the objects of experience 
always contain a reference to our experiencing selves. A famihar 
view among Scholastics that through perception we know "objects 
as they affect us" could be fitted into this framework. One simple 
way to hold that we do know the world in itself, of course, would 
be to hold that the world as it is "for us" is the world in itself: 
that reality is relational to its very foundation, and that therefore 
the very question of a search for the "object in itself" apart from 
all relations is an empty search.^^ Relational properties are only 
defined against intrinsic properties if one fancies that the reahty 
of an object can be conceived in total abstraction from its relations. 
If this is not so, then there would not be the same difficulty in 
conceiving the qualities of the object as at the same time totally 
relational and totally intrinsic. 

There still remains the other alternative of simply stopping with 
the irreducible givenness of the bodily experience of consciousness 
with all that that entails. We might confine this irreducible there- 
ness to extension, as do the virtual reaMsts, or maintain a similar 
irreducibility for the secondary quahties. We could claim what 
some do, that just because science correlates color with light-waves 
or warmth with molecular motion, this does not by any means 
prove that the secondary quahties do not also exist objectively.^- 
Heat may be an objective concomitant of molecular motion, color 
an objective concomitant of fight-waves; or they both might be 
co-equal objective properties, discernible from different vantage- 

11 This is the view of the later Husserl; in a quite different way it is 
the view of quite different idealists like Hegel, Leibniz, or Bradley, and 
of an "organic" realist like Whitehead. 

12 This seems to be the basis for the defense of the objectivity of sec- 
ondary qualities made by P. Coffey, Epistemology, 2 vols. (New York: 
Longmans Green), 1917, vol. U, pp. 127-137 and by Reginald O'Neill, S.J., 
Theories of Knowledge (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall), 1960, pp. 

124 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

points. It really seems to be only a prejudice which throws the; 
secondary qualities out of reality. Illusions are not conclusive, 
either, since they only prove that these qualities are conditioned 
by circumstances, not that they are un-real. When we see a round 
penny from a certain angle as elliptical, the explanation is again 
the relational character of the datum. We are seeing a round- 
penny-turned-at-a-certain-angle-to-my-eye : a total circumstantial 
datum. What would be amazing would be that the penny from this 
angle still looked round, for this would nullify the reality of space 
and of the whole context of relations which the penny has to other 
entities. I am never perceiving the penny, but a whole contextual 
relation, out of which I concentrate on a single member. To exist 
spatially is to exist perspectivally , but that is only confusing if we 
fail to see that perspective is itself an objective datum. True, it is 
not a property of an object apart from a viewer, but neither is it a 
property of a viewer. It is a property of an object-as-viewed-from- 
here. The intelligibility of perspective implies a reference to a 
determinate object and is therefore a revelation of that object. 
The same can be said about the perspectival character of second- 
ary qualities. 

To hold that sensory perception puts me in touch with qualities 
which exist formally in an independent object, we would have to 
hold several things: a) The conception of an object as it exists in 
itself, apart from all relations, is a meaningful conception, b) The 
conception of primary and secondary qualities existing apart from 
all relation to consciousness is a meaningful conception, c) There 
is nothing in experience that would eliminate this possibility. It 
may be safely declared that sensory illusion and scientific evidence, 
the only two reasons usually adduced for the elimination of objec- 
tivity are not conclusive. Therefore the decision on this question 
comes down to our stand on the first two points. Even if the possi- 
bility of the first two points is denied, there is at least one more 
alternative that one could adopt who wanted to hold the strict 
reality of sensory qualities. That is the behef in an Absolute 
Consciousness transcending our own in which all these qualities 

The Problem of Perception: II 125 

are perpetually held fast; on this view, one way to sustain naive 
realism would be by espousing Absolute Idealism. 


Two more points may be made in conclusion. First, the question 
of objectivity is usually discussed in complete neglect of the con- 
sciousness which asserts this objectivity. We too easily overlook 
the fact that every assertion of objectivity is in function of a cer- 
tain exigence of the consciousness which makes it. Consequently 
we overlook the keen dissatisfaction felt by certain realms of 
consciousness in the face of the Kantian or virtual realist disposal 
of secondary qualities. Specifically, what would the aesthetic con- 
sciousness feel if it were told that secondary qualities were only 
virtually objective? Suppose we were to tell Marcel Proust, remem- 
bering in ecstasy the taste of his aunt's madeleine cake, the azure 
Veronne River, the long-ago peal of the church bells, and the 
scent of the hawthorn blossoms along the lanes of the childhood 
village of Combray, that secondary qualities were not as formally 
real as extension and motion — would that make contact with the 
reality of his experience? And if it did not, in what way is it a 
satisfactory view of perception? 

The aesthetic consciousness seems to experience itself as a pro- 
found, though stammering, affirmation of a splendor it finds in 
the most irresistibly objective manner. The world which it cele- 
brates is, for it, gloriously there and it will just not take no for 
an answer. Now the exigence which this consciousness feels to 
assert absolute reahty cannot be brushed aside by a consciousness 
operating at a different level or in a different way. The scientist 
just cannot tell the artist that the sunset is not really a riot of color 
nor a benediction of beauty; nor can the "neutral observer," the 
sensory knower, the down-to-earth man, or any other than a 
poetic consciousness. The assertion of reality is always a function 
of a certain exigence, and the tendency to overlook this introduces 
a fantastic confusion into the problem of "perception." What re- 

126 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

flection can do is to mediate and harmonize the various exigences 
and the various realms of consciousness, but it can do this only if, 
as reflection, it inhabits these realms and feels these exigences. 
Up to the present day, epistemological discussions about the ob- 
jects of perception have not done this. Progress in this quarter is 
urgently caUed for. 

Secondly, reflection must also apply itself to the continued ex- 
ploration of the meaning of "object" which is at stake in this 
discussion, something never quite clear. Even the aesthetic con- 
sciousness is not sure what it means when it says that it wants its 
world to be there, to be there-for-itself; it wants, somehow, to 
afiirm the glorious and overriding reality of the objects it encoun- 
ters, but it is not reaUy sure what it means by this yearning. 
Philosophical reflection must delve into the inarticulate yearning 
of this and other levels of consciousness. For consciousness must 
recognize something puzzling and elusive about its conviction of 
the "reality" of perceptual objects. Not only is a perceptual object 
an amalgam of an indefinite number of perspectival views, but it 
is involved totally in time. No one has yet fuUy incorporated time 
into the discussion on perception. I feel that I experience objects 
and that these objects are real independent of my perception. But 
each object is a temporal unfolding, and therefore in demanding 
that the object be real, I am demanding that each temporal per- 
spective be relatively unreal. I want it to be for-itself — and yet 
how can I conceive the for-itself reality of a rock with an infinity 
of possible spatial perspectives and a continuity of real temporal 
moments? It would seem that in asserting the reahty of objects, I 
am always asserting more than perspectives: I am asserting the 
ingathering of perspectives into a unity which is somehow there 
in and for itself. Yet how can this apply to non-human things? 
Perhaps a clue may be gotten by considering the non-conscious 
unitary aspects of consciousness, such as the way our bodily ex- 
periences are there for us. Physiologically our body is not a datum 
for consciousness; what does it mean for the body to be there, 
and yet not consciously there? The possibilities for questioning 

The Problem of Perception: II 127 

along this line seem limitless, and it is to these questions that 
philosophical speculation about perception must press on if it is 
to be fruitful. Only by continually turning the problem over and 
subjecting it to the whole range of conscious exigences will we 
ever do much more than mark time in the same place. 



Although the objectivity of sense perception can be placed upon 
firm grounds, there is no denying that there is a residue of uncer- 
tainty in this area. If nothing else, it is clear that the objectivity 
here vindicated is compatible with a relatively vast amount of 
error; sensory illusion of one kind or another is familiar to every- 
one. Therefore it makes obvious sense to say that the objects of 
sense perception may often appear to be other than what they 
really are. That which is known in sense perception is not given 
in such a way that it can underwrite an unconditional certitude 
about reality apart from the immediate perception. 

The mind finds itself restive under these circumstances, for its 
ineluctable urge is the urge to the absolute. We are not at all 
satisfied to rest with the rather adulterated brand of sensory objec- 
tivity, but wish to press on to an area in which we can leave all 
qualification behind. Is there present in human experience any 
knowledge about which we will no longer have to fear that things 
may be other than they seem? Is the security of unconditional 
assent forbidden to us? Or is there not open to thought an affirma- 
tion which it can make with altogether unqualified assurance? 

Now if there is such assurance, it can only be founded on a 
datum in which the distinction between appearance and reality is 
surpassed. If there is to be absolute certitude, there must be an 
absolute datum, one given in such a way that with respect to it 

The Search for the Unconditional 129 

we need not, even cannot, ask whether things be other than they 
seem. As long as it is thinkable that things be other than they 
seem, then it is thinkable that our knowledge of them be not true 
to what they really are. The search for the unconditioned therefore 
resolves itself into the search for the absolute datum. 

Such a datum is given to us through the idea of "being." By 
the term "being," we designate all that is and all that can be. We 
designate the totality of reality, whether actual or possible. Man, 
star, stone, amoeba, are all beings; red, sweet, hard, loud, are 
beings; satyrs, unicorns, mermaids are beings (beings of fantasy); 
numbers, lines, points, are beings (beings of abstraction); 
thoughts, acts of will, emotions are beings. The idea of being 
applies to everything which is and to every difference between 
everything which is: daisies and grasshoppers are both beings, and 
whatever makes a daisy different from a grasshopper is also a 
being. Thus, green, leafy, with a yellow and white flower, contain- 
ing chlorophyll, are modes of being; brown, many-legged, winged, 
are modes of being. The notion of being applies to every whole 
individual and to every part of that whole. There is no exception 
whatever to the idea of being: God is a being, and so is a gamma- 
ray. Absolutely nothing falls outside the scope of this notion. 
Whatever is not nullity, is being. 

Suppose there are things which we have never known and never 
will — planets forever unseen, types of Ufe never encountered, 
Descartes' evil genius, or some peculiar thing so foreign to us that 
we cannot even begin to imagine it. Even so, we know one thing 
about it in advance — the idea of being applies to it. Whatever we 
do not know about it, we do know that if it is at all, it is included 
within our concept of being. The idea of being is not, then, limited 
to experience. It applies to every being which participates in ex- 
perience and to anything that could participate in experience but 
also to things which could never be part of our experience. This 
idea is absolutely universal, and no exception to it whatsoever is 
thinkable. Moreover, in respect to it, no distinction between 
appearance and reality is possible. It may make sense to say 

130 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

"maybe this only looks red and isn't really red," but it makes no 
sense to say, "maybe this red only seems to be being, and really 
is not." The idea of being, then, provides the fulcrum upon which 
absolute certitude turns. 

We have already suggested that the absolute unconditional 
underlying thought is the reality of the question itself as the 
ground of all knowledge, and what is said here is not meant to 
controvert this. Being is delivered to us fundamentally as question. 
What we are seeking now is, as it were, the first irruption of the 
question into the order of affirmation. And we cannot go far 
wrong if we begin by saying that one thing we may affirm uncon- 
ditionally is our right to affirm} This is not playing with words, 
for it is a way of recognizing that that which allows the question 
of the truth or falsity of individual assertions to be raised is of a 
different order from the object of these assertions. That which 
allows the distinction between the truth and falsity of assertion is 
the questioning grasp of experience. But the question, as turniiig 
to experience, is immediately diffracted into a duality in the order 
of assertion. For it grasps experience as at a certain "distance" 
from its own ultimate and inexpressible intelligibiUty. That upon 
which assertion bears is twofold: it is not a sheer existent, which 
would leave no distance between itself and the question and thus 
obliterate the latter. 

This distance of experience from the question is rendered in the 
order of assertion as a distance of experience from itself, and 
expressed in the primitive assertion that "something is" or "some- 
thing exists." No assertion may escape that formula, and that 
formula entails the diffraction of the intelligibiUty of the question 
into a "what" and a "that." In the order of assertion the identity 

1 This point is strongly made by one of the major thinkers of the mod- 
ern Thomistic movement, Joseph Marechal, SJ., in his monumental six 
volume work, Le point de depart de la metaphysique. See Cahier I, p. 35, 
and Cahier V, p. 377. For an exposition of Marechal's thought, see the 
exhaustive and remarkable survey of 19th and 20th century Thomistic 
epistemology by Georges Van Riet, L'epistemologie thomiste, pp. 263-300. 

The Search for the Unconditional 131 

of the what and the that (essence and existence) is impossible. 
Hence the unconditional in the order of assertion derives from the 
primitive fissure which underlies and makes possible this order. 
Experience as answering to the question always renders a twofold 
reply: something . . . exists. Neither of these can be reduced to 
nor deduced from the other, and the search for the unconditional 
, in this area must lead through the distance which separates them. 


Now in the recognition of the irreducible value of the primitive 
assertion, that "something exists," there are contained a plurality 
of principles which derive their standing from this recognition. 
The unconditional certitude of these principles is rooted in the 
unconditional value of the primitive assertion itself. They are tradi- 
tionally stated as follows: 

1) Principle of Identity: What exists, exists; what does not 
exist, does not exist. 

2) Principle of Sufiicient Reason: Whatever exists has a suffi- 
cient reason for existing. 

3) Principle of Efficient Causality: Whatever begins to exist, 
requires an efficient cause. 

A detailed justification of the unconditional value of these prin- 
ciples is now caUed for. 

1 ) To many ears, this principle sounds like an empty tautology, 
and it is not hard to see why. Even when we express it in this 
existential way rather than in the purely formal logical manner 
(A is A; non-A is non-A), the expression is so basic that it seems 
futile to go to the trouble of asserting it. But while it may be 
regarded as a truism, it is a truism upon which all thought turns. 
Unless we recognized this principle, we would be able to recognize 
or assert nothing whatsoever. What the principle asserts is simply 
that there is a radical difference between existing and not-existing; 
to be is not the same thing as not-to-be. Being and nothing are 
distinct, or better put, being is not equivalent to the absence of 

132 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

being. One who thought himself capable of denying this principle 
would obviously have surrendered all right to think at all. The 
principle is readily converted into the Principle of Contradiction: 
Nothing can both exist and not exist. Once again, the recognition 
of this truth is involved in the recognition of any truth whatever: 
the very possibiUty of asserting is grounded in the realization that 
to assert and deny are not identical. We cannot both assert and 
deny the truth of a proposition. But what is asserted or denied is 
being. The ground, therefore, for the recognition that an assertion 
and denial of the same proposition is impossible, is the recognition 
of the impossibility that what is asserted both exist and not exist. ^ 
2) This principle is equally indubitable, once its import is 
clearly understood. What is asserted is not some relatively shape- 
less confidence, such that "Everything exists for a reason," or 
"God created everything for a purpose," which piety may fairly 
accept (and perhaps consequent thought lend credence to) but 
something much more basic. "Reason" in this principle has noth- 
ing to do with "purpose" or "goal" and therefore carries no 
connotation either of God's providence or the benevolence of 
"Nature." "Reason" here means "ground" or "account," and what 
is asserted is just that thought must apprehend a sufficient ground 
for the fact that something exists. Upon inspection this principle 
will be found to be as irreducibly intelligible as the first. If there 
is a difference between being and not-being, then wherever we 
have being, there must be that which sufficiently accounts for the 

2 This principle is often formulated to include a reference to time: "Noth- 
ing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect." 
Although this seems just as unexceptionable, it introduces into the pure 
intelligible clarity of the principle some of the opacity of our knowledge 
about time itself. In order for the principle so formulated to be directly 
intelligible, it might be thought to include an assimiption of the extremely 
suspect notion of a "point" or "instant" in serial time, at which simultaneous 
existing and non-existing are deemed impossible. It was Hegel who directed 
attention to the limitation of the principle when temporally applied, treat- 
ing the process of becoming as founded upon a sort of dynamic violation of 
this principle. There is no need to take up his reservations here, although 
they are very much to the point in metaphysics. 

The Search for the Unconditional 133 

fact that here there is being and not nothing. Anything else would 
be absurdity. If there were not that which sufficiently distinguished 
being from nothing, then being would not be sufficiently distin- 
guished from nothing (an obvious violation of the insight con- 
tained in the principle of identity). But if being is different from 
nothing, then there is that which sufficiently differentiates it. If the 
absence and the presence of being are not identical, then where 
we have presence of being rather than the absence of being, there 
must be a ground or reason for the presence of being rather than 
its absence. Once again, to say anything else would be to regard 
existing and non-existing as identical. 

Since the principle of sufficient reason amounts to the demand 
of thought that the order of existence be intelligible, there is a 
sense in which it might be applied wherever there is an act of 
existing. Thus, it might even be thought of as applicable to the 
infinite being, God. Even here we could say that if the infinite 
being exists, then there must be a sufficient reason why He exists. 
If He is distinct from nothing, there must be that which sufficiently 
differentiates Him from nothing. God is said to exist a se, of him- 
self; His nature is to exist. This does not exactly mean that in the 
real order God's essence is the ground of his existence. It means 
that His existence is not distinct from His essence, and that it is 
grasped by us as an intelligible terminus in which thought may 
come to rest. Of course, from our standpoint, we could express 
this by saying that for our knowledge, we see God's essence as the 
sufficient reason for His existence; but that only means that if we 
understand what God is, we cannot ask why He is. This could be 
put in more Thomistic terms: since in God essence and existence 
are identical, He is "esse." Then our thought which raises the issue 
of the sufficient reason for the existence of God recognizes that 
the nature of God is existence. As supremely actual, there is no 
severance of the ground of His existing from His existing; He 
exists because He is existence. So that God is grasped by us as 
His own sufficient reason for existing. 

Yet this same statement cannot be made about contingent 

134 The Philosophy of Knowledge ' 

beings. We cannot say of man, stone, tree, animal, or any other 
familiar object that they are their own ground of being. They come 
into being and they pass out of being; they begin to be. Whatever 
begins to be obviously does not exist of its own nature. What 
exists of its own nature exists necessarily; what exists necessarily 
cannot not-exist. Therefore, what begins to be does not exist 
necessarily. It is said to be contingent, indifferent to existence, 
meaning simply that its nature is compatible either with existence ; 
or non-existence. John Jones does not exist because he is John 
Jones — for it is not only thinkable but predictable that one day 
he will not exist (just as one day he did not exist). Therefore 
existing as John Jones is compatible with the possibility of not- 
existing. Certain types of being are susceptible of existing or 
not-existing: then when they do exist, the sufficient explanation for 
their existence cannot be that they are this kind of being (or this 
kind of individual). But the fact remains that there must be some 
sufficient reason why this being which could not-be here and now 
is. It is not its own sufficient reason for existence; nevertheless it 
requires that which accounts for its standing outside of nothing.^ 
It has become increasingly common among Thomistic writers 
to disparage the value of the principle of sufficient reason, on the 
grounds that it is an intrusion of "essentialism" into a metaphysi- 
cal terrain which should be reserved for a properly "existentiaUst" 
thought.* The principle, there is no doubt, does not go back in its 
explicit formulation to St. Thomas, and Thomists who are con- 

3 Not only beginning to be and passing away in a complete sense, as 
the appearance and disappearance of individual unities, but any state of 
change gives the same reasoning. For no being insofar as it is changing is 
its own ground of being. Every state of a changing being is contingent: it 
was not a moment ago and will not be a moment from now. Therefore the 
grasping of a being as changing is the grasping of it as not intelligible in 
itself — as essentially referred to something other than itself. 

■* See, for instance, Joseph Owens, C.Ss.R., An Elementary Christian 
Metaphysics (Milwaukee: Bruce), 1962, f.n. pp. 16-11. A history of this 
principle as well as a criticism of its rationalist character is contained in 
John E. Gurr, S.J., The Principle of Sufficient Reason in Some Scholastic 
Systems, 1750-1900 (Milwaukee: The Marquette University Press), 1959. 

The Search for the Unconditional 135 

cerned to uphold the primacy of the act of existing in metaphysics 
do not take kindly to a principle which derives at least verbally 
ifrom the rationalist tradition of Leibniz and Christian Wolff. 
Those who make use of it seem to them to be asking that the 
existence of an entity be either "implied" or "not implied" by its 
essence; but this procedure confers a certain priority on essence. 
It is held to suggest that the ultimate principle of intelligibility is 
essence and thus falls afoul of the anathema passed in Thomistic 
circles on this viewpoint. 

The cogency of this objection, however, is not easy to credit. 
For the principle of sufl&cient reason which is here in question is 
not the principle of Leibniz, which admittedly was put to highly 
suspect use. It is a thoroughly existential principle. What it 
amounts to is simply the application of the demand for intelligi- 
bility to the order of existence itself. This does not mean that 
existence must justify itself by an appeal to the order of essence. 
On the contrary, it means that it must justify itself as existence. 
An existent which did not leave room for the distinction between 
what and that to be made would so justify itself; an existent which 
does leave room for this distinction does not so justify itself. As 
existent it points beyond itself. Someone might like to question the 
right to make the essence-existence distinction, but one who con- 
cedes the right cannot easily question the principle of sufficient 
reason. Furthermore, the very fact of an existent which begins to 
be is evidence of the fact that in this case the affirmation that 
"this exists" cannot be an intelligible termination. For in thinking 
such a beginning-to-be, I am thinking an existence which contains 
as existence a reference to a not, and therefore a reference beyond 
itself. An existence which begins-to-be is not a self-terminating 
intelHgible in the order of existence. To contend otherwise would 
be to contend that negation as such is intelligible. 

3 ) This consideration leads directly to the principle of causality, 
which could be looked upon as the exphcitation of the principle of 
sufficient reason in the area of contingent being. This third prin- 
ciple states that every contingent being requires an extrinsic suf- 

136 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

ficient reason for its existence. Since it is not its own sufficient 
reason, and since, nevertheless, there must be one (or negation as 
such would be an intelligible terminus) then it refers itself to 
another as to the ground of its own existence. Then an "efficient 
cause," within the purview of this principle, is simply an extrinsic 
sufficient reason for the coming-to-be of something (or of any 
feature or state of a thing). This exact meaning must be kept in 
mind, for "cause," as will be seen, is sometimes taken to mean 
something quite different. Ultimately, what the metaphysical prin- 
ciple of causality amounts to is that the order of becoming and 
existence must be intelligible; that no phase of the process of 
contingent existence is intelligible in itself; and that therefore 
contingent existence is always relative existence, essentially re- 
ferred, qua existing to another.^ 


In view of what has been said, it should be clear why the tradi- 
tional way of speaking about "first principles" is well founded. 

a) They are called "principles" in keeping with the philo- 
sophical conception of a principle as "that from which something 
else flows or derives." What derives from these principles is 
thought itself. They are the sources from which the possibility of 
every specific thought arises. '^ 

b) For that reason it is only a matter of nomenclature whether 
they be called first principles or "last" principles. They are the 
beginning of thought, the source {principium) from which thought 
arises; but they are also ultimate, in the sense that every particular 
assertion can be reduced to them as resting its ultimate intelligi- 

5 Note that the principle does not state that "every effect requires a 
cause," which would be an empty tautology (since we do not know what 
an effect is except by already conceiving it in relation to cause) but that 
"every event requires a cause," or "every process of coming-to-be requires 
a ground in another." 

6 They may be called first principles of thought for that reason, but they 
are also first principles in respect to being, since they hold good of being. 

The Search for the Unconditional 137 

bility upon them. There is no claim that they are "first" in a 
chronological sense, as if the first judgment a child made were 
that "Nothing can both be and not be"; the point is only that the 
intelligibility of these principles is present in every judgment, in- 
cluding the one which is chronologically first. 

c) They are often called self-evident, in the sense that they 
neither can be nor need to be justified in terms of further evi- 
dence. With these principles, thought reaches an ultimate ground, 
and it would be nonsensical to speak of justifying these principles 
in terms of sense perception, induction, or anything else. This 
"self-evidence" need not mean that these principles arise in abstrac- 
tion from experience, but only that they are the ultimate light in 
terms of which experience is apprehended by thought. They are, 
of course, not self-evident as purely verbal utterances but as 
immediate transpositions of the direct encounter with being. There 
is no way to "prove" or "demonstrate" them, for every demon- 
stration would presuppose them. Normally, demonstration consists 
in educing reasons for belief in a proposition which is relatively 
less known than the evidence which is brought forward to demon- 
strate it. But if this were attempted in the case of the first prin- 
ciples, the absurdity would soon appear. For the recognition of the 
principle of identity, e.g., would be involved in recognizing the 
cognitive value of any premise offered to "prove" it. Any premises 
offered to demonstrate the first principles would already implicitly 
contain them. 

That is why it is sometimes said that these principles are 
"virtually innate." They are virtually there prior to any judgment 
whatsoever, including the first formed by an individual mind. This 
naturally does not mean that we are bom with the words "Nothing 
can both be and not be" inscribed on our souls. But the point is 
that we are born with minds, and that part of the very structure 
of the mind is the power (virtus) of recognizing the truth of the 
first principles. Mind would not be mind without this native 

Suppose someone suggested that these principles could be 

138 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

formed by induction. That is, by realizing that "A cannot both be 
and not be," "B cannot both be and not be, "C cannot both 
be and not be," ... I finally conclude to the generalization that 
"Nothing can both be and not be." Here we must distinguish: no 
doubt the explicit principle of contradiction, as a universal for- 
mula, is derived by a quasi-induction from experience in this 
way. There surely must be many people who live and die without 
making this expUcit reflection and hence without knowing the 
universal principle. St. Thomas's insistence that we know even the 
first principles from experience must be interpreted in this way: 
the explicit assurance of these first principles is won from experi- 
ence itself. Yes, but on the other hand I could not even make the 
individual judgments from which I induce the universal principles 
unless I akeady implicitly recognized the truth of these principles. 
What appears to be true is that I recognize, implicitly, in individual 
cases, the truth of these principles; if I did not, I could not even 
make the individual judgments. I would always have to be worry- 
ing that the individual judgment could simultaneously be true and 
false. Thus, in any individual assertion (the child's "This is my 
mother," "This dog bites," etc.), there is already operative the 
principle of contradiction in which it is recognized that asserting 
and denying are not equivalent. 

It is also entirely plausible that the intelligibility even of these 
first principles cannot be justified simply as a universal, as perhaps 
a rationalist might contend; perhaps, I cannot claim that they are 
indisputably evident, without implicitly referring them back to the 
experience from which they were originally drawn. In this manner 
some seek to vindicate the indispensable role of sense perception 
in our knowledge. '^ The vindication has point if the claim simply is 
that we discover even absolute intelligibihty through direct experi- 

7 Peter Hoenen, SJ., Reality and Judgment According to St. Thomas, 
trans, by Henry Tiblier, S.J. (Chicago: Regnery), 1952, makes a great 
point of insisting on the fact that the first principles are rooted in sense 
experience. Now, that these principles, as any principles, arise out of our 
existential encounter with reality (and not vice versa), there is no need to 
contest; but as Hoenen himself admits, the intelligibility of the principles 
derives from the light of the mind itself (p. 20). On this basis, it is hard 

The Search for the Unconditional 139 

ential contact with being, but it leaves intact the non-sensory 
source of their intelligibility. To say, therefore, that the first prin- 
ciples are already there in sense perception is to speak in a rather 
misleading manner, for the light according to which they are 
grasped is not derivative from sense but an original work of 
thought. In respect to this, as well as in many other ways, the 
hoary formula that "Nothing is in the intellect which was not first 
in the senses," is either completely misleading or must be amended 
in such a way as to cast serious doubt on its usefulness. 

One or two further clarifications are in order. When it is said 
that these principles are "first," it should not be thought that they 
are assumed simply as "postulates" or "rules of the game" of 
thought. A postulate is neither true nor false — it is assumed for 
the sake of lending consistency to what follows. A postulate always 
has the character of an hypothesis and it derives its strength solely 
from the body of consequent propositions which it makes possible; 
no matter how consistently articulated these propositions become, 
the postulate itself always has a lingering air of the tentative and 
the arbitrary about it. But the first principles are not assumed 
for the sake of argument; they are known. They are not simply 
positions which thought occupies when it has reached a certain 
stage of evolution; nor are they expressions of some kind of "faith" 
in reason. If they were regarded as useful results of an evolutionary 
process, in the manner that the pragmatists regard them (just as a 
man's hand is a useful result of that process), their value would be 
strictly factual, for a further development of the evolutionary 
process might generate a thought in which the first principles 
would no longer be true.® Even to think this eventuality as pos- 
sible, however, we would have to employ the principle of contra- 
diction in asserting its possibility. And more than this: in order 

to see how much is at stake in tying them to sense. No doubt Hoenen is 
on a firm basis, too, in declaring that we cannot justify the first principles 
by beginning with their universal character (198); but it is not contended 
that they are primary as universal. 

^ For an explanation of and rebuttal to this, see Daniel Robinson, The 
Principles of Reasoning (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts), 1947, pp. 

140 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

for what we are asserting to have meaning it must be possible for 
us to conceive already a thought for which the first principles 
would not be true. But such a thought is inconceivable, and there- 
fore the assertion of its possibility is meaningless. The first prin- 
ciples, then, are absolute in a rigorous sense; they are absolute as 
cognitive, and not merely factual. The attempt to deny them would 
reaffirm them. No doubt this indubitability is still subject to the 
existential structure of our human condition, but this does not 
make them objects of "faith." They are cognitional absolutes ap- 
prehended by a being which is not an existential absolute; this 
apprehension may always necessitate an effort to close the gap 
between existence and intelligibility, but this is not "faith" in any 
useful sense of the term. 


Perhaps the most important philosophical requirement with 
respect to the principle of causality is that it be distinguished from 
the similarly denominated "law of causality" as this is often con- 
ceived by both common-sense wisdom and science. The scientific 
law of causality can be variously formulated. "Every event is 
necessarily connected with some antecedent event, given which it 
must occur"; or, "Every occurrence is the consequence of some 
antecedent without which it could not have occurred and given 
which it had to occur."^ Sometimes this is conceived rather nar- 
rowly: the event of the breaking of the window is connected with 
the antecedent motion of the rock through the air (which is con- 
nected with the antecedent motion of the hand, and so on). 
Sometimes the conception becomes more sophisticated and it is 
assumed that the only adequate causal explanation of any given 
event is not some localized occurrence but the entire antecedent 
course of the universe. In either case, it is clear that the scientific 
law of causality is equivalent to the principle of determinism. For 

9 See Robinson, ibid., p. 253. For a positivist's statement and criticism 
of this principle, see Philipp Frank, Modern Science and its Philosophy 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 1949, p. 54 ss. 

The Search for the Unconditional 141 

it holds that given the antecedents, the results will necessarily 
follow. In its ideal expression, it assumes the grandiose proportions 
of Laplace's declaration that, given the position and motion of 
every elementary particle in the universe at any moment of time, 
and given a mind sufficient to comprehend this, then the entire 
course of future history could be predicted for every moment of 

Now this scientific principle carries built-in epistemological puz- 
zles of its own^" but the present intention is only to distinguish it 
from the philosophical principle of causality with which it could 
be confused. The philosophical principle merely insists that given 
any contingent entity or event there must be some extrinsic suf- 
ficient reason for its existence. It by no means says that this cause 
has to be a member of a temporally antecedent series, nor that it 
has to act necessarily. The notion of a "free cause" is not a 
philosophical contradiction, although it is a contradiction scien- 
tifically. A scientific "cause" is equivalent to a necessary ante- 
cedent, and therefore a free (non-necessary) cause would be a 
patent contradiction. This must be kept in mind, or the news that 
many contemporary scientists, under the influence of the Heisen- 
berg principle of indeterminacy, repudiate the notion of causality 
would be startling indeed.^^ 


The foregoing stipulation is also useful in considering David 
Hume's famous arguments against the vahdity of causality.^^ What 
Hume was primarily combatting was really the common-sense 

1° Especially when it is put in the form that similar consequents follow 
from similar antecedents, for here there is the question of whether an 
exactly similar antecedent ever occurs in nature. 

11 According to the principle of indeterminacy it is intrinsically impos- 
sible to assert that an electron has, simultaneously, a definite position and 
velocity; if this is accepted, strict deterministic causality cannot be held 
at the sub-atomic level, since the conditions upon which it rests are not 

'^'^ Hume Selections, edit, by Charles W. Hendel, Jr. (New York: Scrib- 
ner's), 1927, pp. 22-39. (From A Treatise of Human Nature.) 

142 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

notion of a cause, according to which event A "makes" event B 
happen; for example, for common sense to say that the moving 
stone "caused" the v^indow to break means two things: 1) there 
was a power in A (moving stone) which made B (breaking 
window) happen, 2) this connection was a necessary one, such 
that given a similarly moving stone, and a similarly constructed 
window, a similar breaking would occur. Now Hume, in keeping 
with his sensory epistemology, first asks where we get the notion 
of this "power." It is not drawn from observation and cannot be 
verified through observation. What we observe is the sequence of 
events, the moving stone and the breaking window (or the ap- 
proaching fire and the feeling of heat); we do not observe some 
occult "power" which acts between one and the other. As for the 
"necessity" of this event, we surely do not observe this either. We 
observe the sequence, but not its necessity. Where, then, do we 
get the notion of necessity? We get it from the habit we develop 
of expecting event B to occur whenever event A occurs. We have 
observed such sequences many times before, and in each case 
event B follows event A — they are constantly conjoined. Because 
of this, whenever we witness event A, our mind automatically 
anticipates event B; we can't help anticipating it. This, however, 
is a psychological necessity in us, not an objective necessity in 
things. We project this psychologically inevitable expectation into 
the objective sequence and treat it as an inevitable connection 
in events. While understandable, this projection cannot be logically 
validated. For the two events are physically distinct, and there is 
nothing inconceivable about the consequent being different from 
what it normally is. What is there to prove, then, that the concept 
of cause has objective validity and is not simply a subjective 

Immanuel Kant's answer to this reasoning is one of the most 
influential in the history of philosophy and actually forms the 
foundation for his own thought;" in following it, we must not lose 

'^^ Kant Selections, edit, by T. M. Greene (New York: Scribner's), 
1929, pp. 122-130, 145-155. (Selections from The Critique of Pure 

The Search for the Unconditional 143 

sight of the fact that Kant is attempting to defend the concept of 
causality which Hume attacked (and that this is still not to be 
confused wih the philosophical concept as defined above). What 
Kant attempted to do, in brief, is the following: He tried to show 
that the concept of cause must be applicable to objective reality, 
for it is only because of the applicability of such concepts as 
"cause" that we can even distinguish between objective and sub- 
jective reality. Hume, in asking whether this concept is really only 
"subjective" has distinguished himself as a subject from objects; 
if he could not do this without using the concept of cause, then 
obviously he cannot then turn around and question the validity 
of this concept. 

Now, Kant holds that experience arises with the raw material 
of sensations. But the senses alone do not give us "objects." For 
this, the raw material of sensations must be molded by the formal 
categories of the understanding, of which Kant numbered twelve. 
Among these formal categories, "cause" is especially important. 
All our sensations are given as in temporal sequence; all our 
sensations are flowing. But what we notice is that some of our 
sensations flow in necessary order and that the sequences in which 
we experience them cannot be arbitrarily ordered: the ship flowing 
down the river cannot be experienced in any succession whatever, 
but must be experienced in a regular and orderly way.^* The 
steps in this experience are uniformly connected. It is only because 
they are that I experience this as a ship flowing down a river and 
not a dream ship. Those of my sensations which are whimsical 
and disorderly do not form part of any necessary sequences; I 
consign them to the purely subjective status of illusion or dream. 
But it is only on the basis of the distinction between the lawful 
and the arbitrary that I distinguish between the objective and sub- 
jective. The objective realm is the realm of orderly phenomena. 

Furthermore, I only become conscious of myself as a subject 
by separating myself out as a spectator of this orderly realm. A 
completely chaotic experience would give no ground at aU for 

i*/6/W., p. 124. 

144 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

distinguishing between subject and object; in a completely chaotic 
experience, I could not even say "I" for there would be no ground 
to distinguish the "I" from anything else. Contrariwise, experience 
of objects just is the experience of the necessarily connected and 
orderly. Therefore, if one of the categories according to which my 
experience of orderly sequence is possible is the category of cause 
(necessary connection of events), then this category must neces- 
sarily apply to objects: it is the condition for the experience of 

Note what this reasoning of Kant's does, to his own satisfaction 
at least: it completely vindicates the validity of "cause" with 
respect to phenomena, but it also restricts the application of this 
category to phenomena. "Cause" for Kant means the lawful con- 
nection between phenomenal sequences; then if I am to have 
orderly phenomenal experience the category of cause must be 
vahd — of that experience. But this is a very far cry from showing 
its validity in respect to what is beyond phenomenal experience. 
Its validity consists in being a condition for phenomena. Then to 
ask whether it apphes apart from phenomena is to ask something 
absurd. Therefore, we cannot try to make noumenal use of this 
concept of cause — to prove by its means, for example, the existence 
of God or the free causation of will. To do so, would be to seek to 
extend beyond experience a notion whose entire meaning consists 
in being a tissue by which experience is bound together. Kant 
therefore denies all metaphysical value to the principle of causality. 

What Kant holds, in effect, is that I only have genuine knowledge 
in respect to what is an "object," and that the complete meaning 
of object is a synthesis of sense intuition and formal concept. I 
"know" what I can integrally lay hold of. But the categories alone 
do not give me anything to lay hold of: they do not have any 
content. They are only pure forms or rules according to which 
things can be lain hold of. They demand completion through intui- 
tive content and can only be filled in from the side of sense intui- 
tion. Then when I try to use these categories beyond sense 
experience, my thought is empty — I think nothing, I only "make 
as if" to think something. 

The Search for the Unconditional 145 

An evaluation of this position must attend to the exact meaning 
of the philosophical principle of causality. Kant does not really 
refute this principle because he does not really engage it. We may 
begin by allowing Hume's statements their proper desserts. It is 
true that we do not perceive causes; we only perceive sequences. 
The notion of cause is formed as a result of the demand which 
the mind makes upon experience; it demands that succession as 
such be intelligible, since, as mind, it is the insight that all being 
is intelligible. The philosophical principle of causality is simply 
this demand applied to temporal events, which results in the reali- 
zation that becoming as such is essentially relative. It is only one 
who, like Hume, was prepared, to deny the right of mind to make 
any demands upon reahty and to reduce all experience to passive 
sense perceptions, who would be prepared to accept non-percepti- 
bility as non-validity. 

We must also distinguish the general philosophical principle 
from the realization of what is the cause of any specific contingent 
event. Hume would be on fairly secure grounds if he were merely 
pointing out the difference between our realization that every event 
has a cause and our decision as to what this cause was — whether 
an immediately prior temporal event or not. This is by no means 
as metaphysically certain. We can hardly claim to be able to 
identify the specific cause of an event with the same absolute cer- 
tainty that we can assert that it must have such a cause. Finally, 
it goes without saying that any statement about the necessity with 
which that cause operates is completely outside the province of 
the principle of causality itself. Therefore, neither the reasoning 
of Hume nor Kant is conclusive against the philosophical question 
of causahty. Hume's posture, in particular, is patently clumsy. His 
whole effort can be construed as a search for the causes of our 
belief in respect to the notion of cause — giving clear enough indica- 
tion that he thinks there must be causes for it and thus sapping 
the life out of his own conclusions. 

Kant is on somewhat more plausible ground when he contends 
that the categories alone do not give us an "object" or "thing" 
and hence that their metaphysical use does not provide knowledge 

146 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

in the same sense as phenomenal knowledge. This seems at least 
psychologically vahd, although it does not justify the repudiation 
of metaphysics to which he went on. Even if we can use the 
category of cause metaphysically to prove a "first cause" of 
phenomenal being, we do not reach this way an "object" in a fully 
satisfactory sense. God is surely not an object for our knowing in 
the same sense as phenomenal objects. In one way He is much 
more intelligible, in another much less — but in any case He is not 
intelligible in the same way. Then, metaphysical knowledge is 
significantly different from phenomenal knowledge. So much may 
be conceded without surrendering the cognitional value of the 
first principles. 

The answer to aU philosophical doubt as to the validity of the 
first principles must invoke the absolute nature of the idea of 
being upon which they are based. With this idea, the distinction 
between appearance and reality is surpassed. So, likewise, is Kant's 
distinction between the noumenal and phenomenal. Whatever else 
the noumenal reality-in-itself may be, it must be such that the 
idea of being applies to it — and whatever intelligibility is based 
upon the idea of being. Far from deriving its meaning from the 
side of the phenomenal, the category of cause is an extension into 
the phenomenal of a trans-phenomenal category. It may well be 
that as this category is commonly employed it is hampered by 
intrusions from the imagination and that its metaphysical use is 
considerably vitiated ;^^ to this extent the distaste of many con- 
temporary philosophers for it has not a little justification. 

The remedy for this, however, would seem to be its purification ! 
rather than its repudiation. The justification of the category of 
cause is the same as that of all metaphysical notions: the level of 
insight sufficient to question them is a level at which they are neces- 
sarily valid. We could not pose the question of the validity of the 
first principles unless we inhabited the absolute center of thought 

15 For one thing, the quasi-spatial externalization vis a vis one another 
of cause and effect, or again the tendency to picture the activity of non- 
phenomenal causality by strict parallelism with phenomenal activity, arriv- 
ing at a kind of "ghostly mechanics." 

The Search for the Unconditional 147 

and called aU reality into question. But we only inhabit that center 
by virtue of the idea of "being," and it is just the idea of being 
which necessarily implies the validity of the first principles. No 
attempt of scepticism or relativism wiU succeed in reducing these 
to a provisionary status, for they are the grounds for the asking 
and answering of all possible questions. 


A few words on the question of evidence are in order at this 
point, since the analysis has been based upon the conception of 
an "absolute evidence" being contained in the notion of being. 
Certitude may be defined as "warranted assent" — an assent of 
thought warranted by adequate evidence. It was found that the 
certitude of the first principles was absolute because it was war- 
ranted by a datum present in such a way that the appear- 
ance/reality distinction was surpassed. Not all evidence is of this 
kind, that much is clear; and so, not all evidence can underwrite 
an absolute conviction. Still, wherever there is any certitude at all 
present, it wiU be seen to be directed towards a certain kind of 
evidence. This notion of "evidence" is hard to pin down, although 
recourse to it, patent or disguised, cannot be avoided. We may take 
it to mean "the way reality is present" or the "manifestation of 
being to thought." 

It is easier to give examples of its role than to define it; and it 
is easier to make it conspicuous in its absence than its presence. 
If someone makes the statement "there are exactly 301, 614 fish 
in the Hudson River," what would be our intellectual response to 
this statement?^*^ Surely, we would not merely nod and say "Inter- 
esting fact." We would be much more likely to lift an eyebrow at 
the temerity of the person who made such a remark. By no means 
could our reaction be described as one of "certitude." The possibil- 
ity could not be ruled out, of course, that by some wild stroke the 
speaker had named the right figure, but it is so unlikely that we 

! ^« See Hassett, Mitchell, and Monan, op. cit., p. 82. 

148 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

find no difficulty at all in withholding our assent. Why is this? It 
is because the evidence suflEicient to warrant the assent is clearly 
missing. Reality is not present to my thought in such a way that 
I can feel secure in an assent to this proposition. Whereas, if 
someone were to say of the room in which I sat, "There are 
exactly three windows in this room," my agreement or disagree- 
ment would soon be forthcoming. And this for the simple reason 
that the evidence to warrant the assent is easily available. 

So with any possible type of judgment. The evidence may vary. 
The kind of evidence needed to warrant one assent might not be 
suflEicient to warrant another, but every time I judge, I orient my 
thought in the direction of the way in which reality is present. I 
experience my thought as this attempt to take my bearings on the 
presence of being. This is the foundation for the frequently re- 
peated declaration that being has dominance over thought. My 
thought experiences itself as essentially submissive, as an attempt 
to bow down to evidence. I do not decree what is, I discover it. 
My thought is, then, a pursuit, an openness to the real and not a 
pure spontaneity. Being imposes itself upon me and "coerces" my 
thought. There is clear justification for this way of speaking, 
although it raises some real difl&culties, as we shall see later. 

For the present, attention will be directed to the notion of the 
range of evidence. If evidence is "the way being is present to me," 
it clearly may vary greatly, and the sort of assent warranted by this 
varying presence will also vary greatly. Shall we reserve the 
name certitude for those assents which are absolutely war- 
ranted and regard every other assent as simply highly probable? 
This, in effect, is what Descartes proposed doing, and it is the 
inchnation of anyone of a rationalist temper. Either, the feehng is, 
something is absolutely certain or it is not "certain" at all. This 
view has obvious merits, and yet there is a lot to be said for the 
famUiar view which classifies certitude into various "types." Con- 
sidered as "warranted assents," there seem to be various positions 
of the mind which are not unconditional and yet which are not 
satisfactorily lumped together as mere "high degrees of prob- 

The Search for the Unconditional 149 

For one, there is some reason to speak of "physical certitude," 
which is an assent based upon the evidence of the habitual behavior 
of physical bodies, often formulated into the so-called "laws" of 
nature. Thus, what of the attitude of the outfielder who is waiting 
under the fly-ball, poised to catch it? It does not seem sufficient to 
describe the cognitional side of his readiness as an opinion that it 
is highly probable that the ball will descend. He is certain of it. 
Yet the evidence which warrants his certitude is not such that the 
opposite occurrence is unthinkable. For the evidence (the normal 
course of nature) contains a proviso not usually adverted to. As 
the positivist might state it, the proviso is: // the future resembles 
the past, this ball will descend; as it might occur to a believer: 
// God concurs and lets the natural ends of physical beings be 
achieved, then this ball will descend (but of course, miracles are 
possible). On either view the opposite is conceivable, and there- 
fore physical certitude differs in kind from metaphysical certitude, 
where the opposite is strictly unthinkable. Thus the "laws" of 
nature, such as gravity, chemical combinations, or thermodynamics 
(even if they are interpreted in a completely coercive way and not 
merely as conventional generalizations, as is now the fashion), 
always retain a less-than-absolute character. There is always a 
certain distance between the nature or essence of things and their 
activities. While assent based upon this sort of evidence may be 
denominated "certitude," it is certitude against the background 
of a condition. 

If we were to carry matters further and inquire into the force 
of such "moral certitudes" as my assurance that "The bus driver 
will not dehberately crash this bus," or the child's trust that "My 
mother has not poisoned my oatmeal," further hesitation might 
arise.^^ In some respects, we might wonder whether we should 
talk of certitude here at all. It is true that, from the point of view 
of lived conviction, these assents are not subject to active doubt. 
It is not a working question for me as I board the bus whether or 

I'^Note that "moral" in moral certitude does not refer to the goodness 
or the badness of the act of the agent, but only to the fact that he is a 
rational agent, a responsible person, hence a "moral agent." 

150 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

not the driver intends to crash it; it does not even occur to me as 
a conscious possibility to have an opinion about. Yet the motive 
for this kind of un-thinking confidence is simply the normal 
behavior of persons, and persons are free agents, and free agents 
are capable of deviating from norms. Even so, if I met someone 
as I came into class, who told me that he had seen an accident 
outside the building, and described it in shocked detail, my first 
reaction would not be one of suspicion ("Watch out for this 
fellow, he may be trying to put one over on me"). This way lies 
paranoia. My reaction would rather be one of belief. Warranted 
belief, we might say, for we are relying (without even noticing it) 
on the general principle that "People do not he without reason." 
Still, this does not obliterate the implicit condition in such certi- 
tude: if this being behaves as a rational being normally does, I 
may rely on him. There are, however, pathological liars, and a 
trust in testimony must be duly circumspect. 

An interesting situation arises in this area. We might be prone, 
at first, to regard "moral certitude" as a rather weak variety, and 
often rightly so. But there are special cases. One source of moral 
certitude is testimony, as has been seen. Normally this kind of 
certitude is rather diluted. Suppose, though, we were to ask our- 
selves what is our mental attitude as we express to ourselves such 
propositions as "There is in France a city called Paris," or "There 
once lived a man called Julius Caeser." How certain are we of the 
truth of such propositions?^^ As certain, it would seem, as we 
are of any possible propositions. Any proviso or condition has 
dwindled to the vanishing point. Most people would say that they 
are more certain of the truth of these propositions than they are, 
say, of the law of gravity. And yet this sort of truth is based 
exclusively on testimony (for one who has not been to Paris or 
been a contemporary of Julius Caesar). It is interesting that what 
seems like a poor sort of certitude can reach a conviction that 

18 On this, see John Henry Cardinal Newman, An Essay in Aid of a 
Grammar of Assent (London and New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.), 
1903, p. 189ss. (Chapter VI, Section 2.) 

The Search for the Unconditional 151 

might as well be called unconditional. What is the explanation for 
this? It seems that the convergence of testimony in respect to these 
truths is so great and so unanimous they are practically subsumed 
into the principle of sufficient reason itself. The only sufficient 
reason for the existence of this convergent testimony seems to be 
the reality of what is testified to. Incidentally, this example also 
highlights the independently evidential character of convergence, 
which can confer cumulative strength on individual sources of 
evidence which, taken piecemeal, are not conclusive. 

Allowing the title of "certitude" to all these situations, we still 
would hardly have touched the surface of the great bulk of 
cognitive responses given by man. For it is an unmistakable, if 
lamentable, fact that man for the most part is deprived of anything 
that can be dignified by the name "certitude" at all. Numerically 
speaking, the quantity of our judgments which we ourselves would 
care to go on record as classifying as certain is rather small; and 
the judgments of ours which others would admit as certain is, alas, 
even smaller. 

Our life is passed under conditions which make impossible the 
kind of sifting of evidence that would allow us to certify many 
judgments as "certain." If we made the attempt in practice to 
withhold our assent and our action except on grounds adequately 
evaluated as "certain," we would be largely paralyzed. Most of 
our lives are spent in acting, and acting does not require and most 
often does not allow hidebound certitude. It can be satisfied with 
probability. What we most frequently act upon is opinion: a 
cognitive response to evidence not grasped as coercive but seen as 
sufficient to warrant action. 

Action, so to speak, "fills in" what is missing in the evidential 
character of our convictions. The social, political, cultural, and 
interpersonal arenas are pre-eminently the scene of opinion, not 
certitude. It is of hmited use asking whether this should be, since 
in the human condition it must be. The speculative and practical 
lesson to be learned by the epistemologist is simply the awareness 
of the difference between certitude and opinion. It is a fairly 

152 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

accurate definition of the fanatic to say that he is one who is 
certain about everything: he maintains his opinions as if they were 
certitudes and he treats differences from himself or from his 
"truths" (his "fixed ideas") as proof of the bad faith of others. 
In a democracy, especially, it is the first poHtical virtue to acknowl- 
edge the ambiguous character of political truth and to commit 
oneself to a positive tolerance of the opinion of others. 

Even opinion is sometimes forbidden territory, since there are 
innumerable questions in which our inability to render an opinion 
is complete. For example, in a modern complex society, issues of 
economy and finance can become so abstruse that the only proper 
cognitional response is doubt: a suspension of judgment. No ob- 
hgation is laid upon us to pass a verdict on everything. This is 
a point which public opinion polls frequently ignore, assuming in 
their professional inquisitiveness that everybody has a right to an 
opinion about everything. Only evidence warrants a cognitive 
response, of either certitude or opinion. Lack of evidence (or 
largely inconclusive evidence) warrants only doubt. While this is, 
in one sense, a shortcoming of thought, the recognition of it is not 
a shortcoming, but something extremely salutary, perhaps even the 
indispensable prerequisite for genuine truth and authentic political 




The first epistemological problem that some would like to raise 
in respect to concepts is simply whether they exist or not. It is a 
fairly spontaneous inchnation on the part of the common-sense 
mind to abjure the reality of such "invisibles." If seeing (or 
sensing) is believing, then not seeing (or not sensing) is not 
beheving; such is the initial state of mind, and such often remains 
the final state of mind. When this state of mind is raised to the 
level of a philosophical position, it is known as "pure sense 
empiricism," which is the contention that the only elements 
present to experience are particular sensory data and that "con- 
cepts" or "universals" either do not exist or are empty. 

Those who speak of "concepts" or "universal ideas" do so in 
the opposite conviction that besides the momentary and individual 
data which are present for the senses at any moment of our experi- 
ence, there are also present aspects of reality which are just as 
stricdy "data" (that is, "givens," irreducible and indisputable 
presences), which are not equatable with sense data but which are 
unmistakably there. 

Thus, when I am sitting at my desk, looking about the room and 
out the window, it is no doubt true that present to my conscious- 
ness are a whole stream of particularized sensory details: the 
particular shade of mahogany reflected in the particular light which 
is slanting through the window, the smoothness of the desk top, 
the uniquely shaped ink-blotches on the blotter, the dehcious odor 

154 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

of the trees wet by the rain, the slightly distracting tapping of the 
window-blind moved by the cool breeze. All these data are 
present to my senses in a perfectly particularized way: it is always 
this color, this warmth, this smoothness, this shape, this motion 
which I perceive at any and every moment. These details are 
present to me before all naming and before any more complex 
act on my part; they could just as well be present, in their sense 
immediacy, and they are present, to a purely sensory knower such 
as a young infant or an animal. There is, then, a complex of 
transitory particulars perpetually present to my sensory organs. 

But besides this, there is present to me the awareness of the fact 
that that upon which I lean is a "table," the shade is known as 
"shade," the "mahogany color" known and named as such, the 
cool breeze mentally hailed as "cool breeze." In brief, I have 
names for what my senses experience. My senses may not name 
them but I do. I name things "red," "white," "blue," "flag," "dif- 
ficult," "easy," "sweet," "large," "pleasant," "painful," etc. My 
sensory experience is pre-nominal; as a child I experienced many 
or all of these things in a purely sensory manner without naming 
them. In naming them I am pointing to what the senses cannot 
point to but what is in a real sense "there" — because it can be 
(mentally) pointed to. 

Every time I name something this name or word expresses a 
meaning which I grasp as being fulfilled in that which I experience. 
In naming this "table," I grasp it as fulfiUing or manifesting a 
certain meaning which is just as much there for my thought as its 
color is there for my sense of sight; in calUng the datum which is 
there for my sense of sight "color" or "red," or "mahogany," I am 
not simply perceiving this visual particular, I am aware of a 
generalized meaning present through the particular. 

To name what I perceive is to do more than perceive. This 
grasping or conceiving in a con-cept (con-ceptum) grasps some- 
thing; it doesn't grasp nothing. To use a fairly neutral term, we 
may call what it grasps a meaning. This is what Socrates and 
Plato origmally meant by an "eidos": the meaning manifested in 

Conceptual Knowledge 155 

and through a particular sensory instance. We do not have to fol- 
low them into the metaphysical superstructure which they erected 
on the basis of this simple recognition; what is important episte- 
mologically is to realize what is meant by saying that this meaning 
is really "there," that it is in a true sense a datum. 

Man, after all, does not create meanings "ex nihilo." In under- 
standing, he still turns to what is already there. When he names 
things, he seeks to capture in speech aspects of reality which are 
there before speech. Speech lives off experienced reality: it is 
essentially referential. This means that thought discovers, and does 
not create or invent what is real. This is essentially what Plato's 
doctrine on the "eidos" amounts to: just as the eye does not 
create colors, but finds them, so the mind does not create meaning, 
but discovers it. Then, whatever characterizes our concepts, our 
graspings of reality, must be in some sense real: for our concept 
just is this seizure of the real, and it would be contradictory to 
have a seizure of the real which did not seize it. Therefore, the 
meaning-value which is apprehended through the concept is actu- 
ally present in that which is apprehended. In naming and knowing 
this as "red," "blue," "water," "table," "mountain," "air," 
"tree," I am aware of what-is. 

Now the interesting thing is that the meaning apprehended is a 
meaning which is apprehended as transcending the sensory in- 
stances in which it is found. In knowing this thing present to the 
senses in its particularized immediacy as a "tree," I grasp a mean- 
ing which is not limited to this particularized immediacy. This 
meaning which I find here I could find elsewhere; I call other 
things "trees." Therefore, the meaning which I discover in the 
sensory particular transcends the sensory particular. It is reahzable 
in other sensory particulars. "Red" refers not only to this particular 
color-item now impinging on my vision, but to myriad other 
possible color-items which could so impinge. As I look out the 
window, I observe the manifold leaves on the tree, and I see that 
they are all "green"; then this meaning "green" which I find in 
the manifold particular instances is not restricted to any of these 

156 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

instances. There is something really and objectively similar in all 
these leaves, and that is the meaning "green" which they manifest. 

We are now in possession of a twofold insight: the meaning 
apprehended in the concept is objectively real, and yet it is real 
in a way which transcends sensory particulars. It is not itself real 
as a sense particular is real. For this reason it is called a "uni- 
versal." This simply signifies that the meaning grasped through 
the concept is not a sense-particular: it is a one-in-many, a unitary 
meaning capable of being multiplied in many instances. As multi- 
phed (that is, in so far as there exist instances of this meaning) 
it is found in each instance: each leaf really manifests the mean- 
ing "green." 

At this point, the spontaneous "materiahsm" which aflOicts us 
all may rebel. We protest that we cannot discover this "universal 
eidos" of red, or the "universal meaning" tree anywhere; all we 
ever seem to discover are the particular instances. The so-called 
concept seems to be simply a notion which we build up in our 
thought, but which has no application to extra-mental reality; the 
latter seems to be composed entirely of particulars. Some have 
disclaimed the very existence of "universal concepts"; others, 
while admitting that they exist for thought deny that there is 
really any universal aspect in things. Now while there is no deny- 
ing that a certain increduUty on this score seems to be both natural 
and healthy, there is also no denying that if anything can be quite 
cogently shown in philosophy, it is the existence, nature, and ob- 
jective reference of universal ideas. Many Thomistic philosophers 
are of the opinion that Thomism is fundamentally based on the 
value of abstract ideas; if so, it is based on a rather firm founda- 
tion. But let it be noted that the stress on the value of concepts is 
not a pecuhar possession of any one philosophical system. The 
insight originates with Socrates and Plato, is adopted and adapted 
by Aristotle, and passes over into the mainsteam of the philosophia 
perennis. What divides adherents of this doctrine is often not 
epistemological at all, but the metaphysical or psychological aspects 
of the doctrine. It would seem that the epistemological issue 

Conceptual Knowledge 157 

comes down to this: are our universal ideas one way of making 
contact with the non-self? Or conversely, is a genuine feature of 
reality revealed to us through concepts? Stress wiU be put in the 
following discussion on this way of asking the question, and dif- 
ferences between Aristotelianism, Platonism, and other systems 


One way of cavilling at the objectivity of ideas may be given 
short shrift, the claim that they do not even exist. In spite of the 
fact that some splendid minds have talked as if they held this 
behef, nothing is easier than to show its falsity. For what is given 
beyond peradventure of doubt is the fact that we use language, 
and that we use it in a certain way. We name things. And names 
do not name particulars. Our names "desk," "man," "triangle," 
"door," "building," "tree," are called in grammar "common 
nouns," meaning that they are appUcable to whole classes of things. 
But of course the word is not itself the idea or concept; it is the 
utterance of an inward mental act of conceiving, but is not iden- 
tical with that act. This is easily shown by the fact that many 
different words (as mere vocables) could express the same mean- 
ing: what I now express by the word "dog" could just as well be 
expressed by the word "gUp" which is right now meaningless. We 
have only to consider that the meaning which in EngUsh is ex- 
pressed by the word "man" is as a matter of fact expressed by quite 
different words: in French by "homme," in German by "das. 
Mann," in Latin by "vir," in Itahan by "uomo," in Greek by 
"anthropos" and so forth. Here the sounds vary, but the idea re- 
mains the same, proving a distinction between the two. We reachi 
the reahzation, then, that ideas exist, and that they are not iden- 
tical with words. 

We may add that the nature of an idea is revealed in the way 
in which it is used. If they are used as signifiers of a common 
quality found in many subjects, they can be called "common" or 

/ 58 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

"universal." For the time being, it is not even necessary to go 
very far into the nature of ideas. We need only the recognition that 
ideas exist, and that they function in a certain way (as signifying 
a quality which can be found in many). This alone is sufficient to 
substantiate the claim that we actually do conceive universal 
meaning: we do use ideas, and the way we use them demonstrates 
their universal character. 

An ingenious way to bring out the impossibility of carrying out 
a denial of the role of ideas is simply to make the attempt to 
eliminate them and conceive of experience without reference to 
them. This is what Plato did in his dialog Theaetetus, and the 
results are shattering to the pure sense empiricist. K we take the 
latter with complete seriousness and consistency, the self-defeating 
character of his belief becomes graphically evident. 

Let us suppose that there exists in human consciousness nothing 
besides sensory experience — no ideas, no universal aspects, nothing 
that is not present in the way a datum is present for the senses. 
What is left of experience? This amounts to asking what is experi- 
ence for the senses as such (eliminating all the elements which as 
a matter of fact are contributed by the concepts which the 
empiricist also wants to reduce to sense data). What the senses 
experience is just a complex of diverse and transitory particulars; 
every sense datum precisely as sensed is unique in time, space, 
and quality. The senser as such is immersed in this stream of 

Perhaps we might be able to think of him as gleaning a certain 
order out of this sequence through habit and association, as 
animals do. But one thing he would not be able to do: he would 
not be able to speak about his experience, for speaking entails a 
certain transcending of the stream of immediate particulars. It 
entails first the deliberate "distancing" of one's own experience in 
order to communicate it; and secondly, as we have seen, it entails 
the use of language to do this objectifying. Words, by isolating 
the common elements of our sensorily fleeting experience, render 

Conceptual Knowledge 159 

it stable and communicable. This, however, means that they lay 
bare its universal aspects. Words are the utterance of the uni- 
versal, and it is impossible to express by their means the fact that 
there is no universal. Animals really are pure empiricists, but 
because they are, they cannot tell us that they are. 

Conversely, the fact that we do think about our experience at 
once demonstrates that there is more to that experience than 
sensory particulars. It also goes a long way towards rejecting the 
nominahst claim that ideas are nothing but words. We have clearly 
seen the difficulty of maintaining this, but at the same time we 
must not gloss over the mysterious and intimate union in human 
thought of language and idea; to say that the two are not identical 
is not to pass on to some over-facile disjunction between them. 

But the nominalist contention that the idea is a mere "flatus 
vocis" and that there is nothing more in consciousness than words 
and the particular experiences which they verbally bind together 
is quite untenable. It is only held because one is able to forget 
that if he really meant it, it would render all thought arbitrary. 
Unless there were real resemblances apart from words, then my 
words could connect things whimsically and without a criterion 
outside themselves. It cannot be that when I call all the leaves on 
the tree "green," the only truth is that I am experiencing a host 
of sensory particulars and lumping them together by means of a 
word. There must be a real objective resemblance among these 
particulars, or else there is no reason why I should lump these 
particulars rather than others, or why I shouldn't include "roses" 
as an instance of "green." 

The temptation to nominalism arises when one asks himself 
"Where is this idea which is supposed to be present as a universal 
in my consciousness?" and then begins to search about for it. He 
makes a kind of inventory of the items which are open to inspec- 
tion in his experience. He can easily catalog colors, sounds, pains, 
and words — but he fails to find anything corresponding to an 
"idea" and decides at last that it must be nothing but the words 

160 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

themselves. This procedure is perfectly natural to man but also 
perfectly fallacious, for it consists in "looking" for ideas. They 
tuiXgiout to be undiscoverable because invisible. 

The fallacy, however, is that this kind of "looking" guarantees 
failure from the beginning. We are asking the questions which his 
hearers mistakenly asked Plato: "Where is the eidos 'man'?" 
"How big is the eidos 'man'?" "What color hair does the eidos 
'man' have?" "Is this ideal 'man' thin or fat?" etc. The implica- 
tion, of course, is that there exists no idea "man" but only indi- 
vidual men. 

These questions, which seem so persuasive at first, are really 
pointless. They are equivalent to asking about and searching for 
an idea as if it were not an idea but a sensory item. An idea is 
no-" where"; the only thing that can be some-where is a particular 
sensory item. An idea is not an individual (that is the thing we 
continually fail to grasp) and hence it does not exist as does an 
individual. To take inventory of our experience and look for the 
idea "man," "table," "blue," is like looking for the number "three" 
in a haystack. An idea is real in the manner of an idea. What 
manner is that? The manner revealed to us in our use of language. 

If we want to look for ideas, we must look for them in the 
region in which they are real: the region of thought. To "find" an 
idea and to be sure that it exists is simply to turn to thought and 
to discover the constituents which make it to be what we know it 
to be. One of these constituents is the apprehension of meanings — 
ideas. Then ideas exist in the mode of thought, and it is futUe to 
look for them in any other manner. The temptation to this futility 
seems to hold a permanent fascination for the human mind, but it 
must nevertheless be resisted. 


A position somewhat more plausible than the nominalist's is the 
stand of the conceptuahst. He agrees that ideas exist and he also 
agrees that their reahty must be searched for in thought. So much 

Conceptual Knowledge 161 

does he agree with this that he cannot see that they have any 
status at all except for thought. An idea, he acknowledges, is a 
universal datum. But the only way a universal datum can ex^ ,t is 
for thought. Outside of thought, all reality is that of individuals. 
The conceptuaUst therefore dichotomizes experience into existing 
particulars on the one hand and universal thought-contents on the 
other. He denies that the universal character of ideas has a real 
reference. Our thought seems to him to transmute into a universal 
datum what in itself is through and through individuated. Thus, 
each leaf which I perceive in the tree exists with its own shade of 
green, each individuated from every other: that is what is real 
outside of my thought. When I form the idea "green," I have a 
universal notion, but in the thing itself there is nothing correspond- 
ing to this datum, but only the individual sense-particular. 

It is a httle difficult to deal with conceptualism without seeming 
to concede either too much or too little value to it. There is 
obviously a sense in which the conceptualist is "right," and tradi- 
tional philosophy could be construed often enough as emphasizing 
his point: that only individuals exist. In a way this is the great 
point which Aristotle and St. Thomas thought they were making 
against Plato. Thought-data do not exist as they do for thought 
except — for thought. This is why the Aristotelian-Thomist-Scholas- 
tic tradition repudiates Plato's notion of the "Eidea" (Forms) as 
eternally real apart from their individual embodiments. Universals 
precisely as universal are not extramental. 

Nevertheless, there is also a redoubtable obstacle to the con- 
ceptualist position. Even though the datum as explicitly universal 
has reahty only as present to a thought-process (for example, the 
universal idea "man" has existence only for thought and not 
outside of thought), the fact remains that there are objective 
similarities among individuals. Each individual instance of man 
reaUy does resemble each other instance in exhibiting the common 
meaning. Each patch of red deserves to be called "red," so that 
the universal meaning "red" really is manifested identically 
through its instances. This objective similarity, it is easy to over- 

162 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

look, also implies that each individual instance really does embody 
a meaning; we only recogni2e that different instances embody the 
same meaning, if we antecedently recognize that each instance 
does in fact embody a meaning.^ 

The meaning which we conceive as an explicit universal in our 
thought has some status outside our thought, for there are objective 
similarities among individuals; objective similarities among indi- 
viduals cannot be founded on what makes them individual; there- 
fore, objective similarity is a sure sign of a real foundation for 
universality. A sure sign of it, we repeat, but not its first con- 
firmation. For the first sign of the objectivity of meaning is the 
recognition of any one instance as embodying a meaning. As soon 
as, upon seeing even one patch of red, I cognize it as embodying a 
specific color-value, I grasp that color-value as multipliable and 
therefore universal; so that I do not have to know many actual 
instances of a meaning to know that as meaning it can be multi- 

Where, then, do matters stand? The facts are these. Particular 
instances really do yield meanings to my thought. In fact, indi- 
vidually different instances )rield identical meanings.- There is no 
gainsaying this; it is not inference, but simple description of 
experience. Then there is no gainsaying that the meaning which I 
conceive as a universal thought-content has some application 
beyond thought. This is the absolute minimum which is guaran- 
teed, and it is enough to overturn conceptualism and to vindicate 
some sort of realism. The fact is that particular instances can be 
and are dealt with by thought and serve the purposes of thought. 
If thought makes use of universals, and if particular instances lend 

1 In other words, we do not arrive at universal ideas by classifying 
instances which manifest meanings, for we must first recognize that each 
does manifest a meaning before we can recognize them as separable into 
classes; and this prior recognition already entails the conception of a uni- 
versal. Therefore, the recognition of universals precedes classification and 
does not derive from it. 

- Different instances given to preception yield the idea "red," or "loud," 
or "man," or "house," or "table," etc. 

Conceptual Knowledge 163 

themselves to this use, then this is enough to show that these 
particular instances are in some way referred to by my universal 
ideas. The claim that universal ideas really do refer to reahty is 
proven by the fact that they really do refer to reality. We success- 
fully use ideas. Therefore they can be successfully used. There is 
no appeal from that. But if ideas are successfully used, if we 
know that by means of them we really can refer in a non-arbitrary 
way to particular instances, then obviously there must be real 
objectivity in the universal data. 

That is the most unexceptionable way to express the viewpoint 
of "moderate realism," that my ideas have a "foundation in 
reality." It is, however, not at all necessary to make a choice 
between what is usually called "extreme realism" and this "mod- 
erate realism." Extreme realism is ascribed to a theory like Plato's 
which held that universals as such existed extramentally; these 
were his Forms ("Eidea," or Absolute Ideas), eternal realities, 
universal meanings subsisting in themselves independent of indi- 
vidual things. The reasoning that we have gone through so far 
does not automatically validate this Platonic realism. It shows only 
that the universal character of ideas (their meaning-character) 
has a status beyond our individual thought, that particular instances 
provide a foundation for these ideas. Whether we can go farther 
is not immediately clear. 

Nor does it appear that the main epistemological question lies 
in the direction of reaching a decision between Plato and Aristotle. 
The epistemological question is always: to what extent does my 
knowing reach the non-self? To what extent does it have apphca- 
tion beyond my individual self? It is sufficient for the moment to 
make plain that the universal-datum has an undoubted objective 
reference, without going further. 


It is in the attempt to go further that we tend to get bogged 
down in a quagmire of metaphysical and psychological difficulties. 

164 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

We insist upon asking what is the relation between this universal 
meaning and its individual embodiments; how the idea can be one 
and many at the same time; how the individuation of the universal 
meaning takes place. The essential thing to cling to is that we do 
use ideas in the described manner and that this implies that things 
are already such as to serve the purposes of thought: that there- 
fore there is a real sense in which the particular does not have its 
being entirely aside from the meaning, that it is a "carrier" of 
meaning. Sometimes the last point is stated by saying that the 
universal exists "in" the individual, and then we are in hot water 
again.^ For, having used this language, we begin poking about in 
the individual instances in an effort to turn up the universal mean- 
ing which is "in" it, and naturally we don't succeed. We continue 
to have on our hands meanings (universals) and instances (indi- 
viduals) and no matter how we scour the latter to find the former, 
we fail. To seek the meaning "red" in this patch here present to 
my vision, or to seek the meaning "man" in this figure now ambling 
towards me is inevitably to revive the conceptualist suspicion that 
after all, an individual is nothing but an individual. What could 
an individual be but an individual? "In" this individual man will 
be found bones, blood, and muscles, but no universal meaning 
"man." And so with every instance. 

But it must be plain that we are proceeding fallaciously here. 
A universal is not "in" the particular in any way that could allow 
us to find it by proceeding on these lines. It is not concealed in the 
particular in some way. The point is rather that the particular as 
particular is already, if viewed in the proper way, the manifesta- 
tion of the universal. A comparison may help to make this clear, 
and to obviate the tendency to view the matter in a naively mate- 

3 Sometimes this is even said to be the great contribution of Aristotle, 
that whereas Plato said that the Forms existed "apart" from individuals, 
Aristotle said that they only existed "in" individuals. The inappropriateness 
and vacuity of this language is quite complete, since ideas obviously exist 
neither "in" nor "out" of sensory instances. 

Conceptual Knowledge 165 

rialistic manner — as if we were searching for the ore of universality 
contained in the dross of particularity. 

Let us ask what happens when a carpenter sets about making a 
table. He begins with a certain ideal model of this table which he 
already has in his mind, and which is there before the physical 
product. After he finishes operating upon his materials — wood, 
nails, varnish — his idea is now embodied in the physical product. 
There now exists a physical table. What is the relation between this 
physical table and the idea in the carpenter's mind which brought 
it into being? Evidently we can say that the table manifests his 
idea and embodies it. Does this mean that the idea is "in" the 
table? We would hesitate before putting it this way, since it seems 
to imply that if we carefully took the table apart we might find 
the idea. If we did speak that way, we might begin to puzzle our 
heads over how the mental idea could be "in" the physical table. 
And possibly to wonder how, if it cannot, the table could really 
manifest the idea. But if we stick to what is indisputable, we skirt 
such false problems. The table really does manifest the carpenter's 

Furthermore, if we meditate more closely and adopt the point 
of view of an observer who comes along and beholds the finished 
table, we can easily appreciate how this observer could recognize 
the physical object as manifesting a certain meaning. He could 
further recognize that this meaning which the particular instance 
manifested was not exhausted by this particular instance, but 
rather could be repeatedly embodied in many other particular 
instances (the carpenter could keep making tables corresponding 
to the idea which served as the model for this one). Then this 
observer in recognizing this physical particular as a "table" has 
simultaneously recognized that the meaning "table" here embodied 
transcends its individual embodiment — that it is a universal in 
respect to its embodiments, a unitary meaning which is not ex- 
hausted by its manifestations but is indefinitely multipliable. He 
recognizes, in other words, that the particular manifests the uni- 

166 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

versal and he recognizes that the universal is just as real as the 
particular which manifests it. Does he also feel that the universal 
is "in" the particular, and begin to have a maze of problems about 
how the carpenter's idea can be "in" the physical table? Not unless 
he is fond of paradoxes. 

In largely the same way, it is paradoxical to raise questions 
about how our universal ideas can really be "in" physical things. 
It is enough that we recognize particular instances as manifesting 
meanings to realize that some meanings have objective reference. 
We say that this is an instance of "water," "rock," "man," "red," 
"loud," "sweet," "animal," and so forth; and in doing so we simply 
recognize that the individual instance yields a datum for thought, 
and that therefore thought's way of conceiving it is founded upon 
reality. We don't simply discover particulars; we discover mean- 
ingful particulars. Our thought then deliberately turns away from 
the particularization to the meaningful character of which it is a 
particularization; but it must already be meaningful if we are 
to discover it as such, and therefore our thought-contents are 
grounded in the meaningful particular.^ 

Some may still insist on raising the issue of how a universal can 
be said to be embodied in a particular. An attempt may be made 
to make this understandable, but before doing so it should be 
reiterated that the previous comparison is the standard of reference. 
We might just as well ask how the idea of table can be embodied 
in a particular table — but the fact is, it is so embodied, and we 
should hold on to that fact. An explanation designed to make the 
"how" more comprehensible may be legitimate but must always 
remain secondary. 

This problem happens to have been the primary, if not the 
exclusive, way in which the epistemological problem presented 

-*Tliis would remain true whether we take a Platonic or Aristotelian 
view of the status of meaning. Even if the meaning is only potentially 
there, and can be activated variously by us, it still remains true that its 
potentiality for being thought characterizes the particular independently 
of our actually thinking it. 

Conceptual Knowledge 167 

itself to the thought of St. Thomas, and an answer to it could be 
fairly easily couched in Scholastic terms. If the content of our 
thought is to be objective, it must exist in reality — but how can a 
universal exist in a particular? The suggestion is that the thought- 
content or essence as absolutely considered is neither universal 
nor individual.^ As conceived by thought, it is a universal; as exist- 
ing in things, it is individual. Considered absolutely in itself — 
considered, that is, apart from its real or mental status — it is 
neither. The essence absolutely taken prescinds from either order 
of existence. 

The doctrine of the "two esse's'' is a technical capsulization of 
this view. It is said that the essence may have two modes of 
existence: in one case, as individualized in the physical thing, in 
the other as grasped intentionally by thought. Since the essence is 
in itself neutral in respect to either of these acts of existing 
(although of course it must exist in either one way or the other if 
it is to be at all) there is no contradiction in saying that the same 
meaning which is present to my thought as a universal, is present 
extra-mentally as an individual. The explicit universality of the 
essence is conferred on it by thought, and the conceptualist is 
right here, that outside of thought there are no explicit universals; 
but the same datum which is thought as universal exists also in a 
singular manner. It is thus deemed possible to presume a thorough- 
going realism since there is an identity of essence (and therefore 
of meaning-content) within a duality of existence. 

As to how we come to generate these ideas, we entirely bypass 
this question. Many texts include large doses of psychology in 
their justification of conceptual objectivity, but this cannot be 
proper. We cannot justify the objectivity of concepts in terms of a 
highly theoretical doctrine of abstraction, for that would be to 
justify the more evident by an appeal to the less evident. Since the 
whole doctrine of abstraction, which is elaborated to explain the 

5 For a clear exposition of the Thomistic view on this, see P. Coffey, 
Epistemology (New York: Longmans, Green and Co.), 1917, vol. I, p. 

168 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

manner in which universals are drawn out of sense experience, 
bears upon supposed processes carried on by the mind which are 
wholly non-conscious and wholly unavailable for direct awareness, 
it must retain a hypothetical character. How can it seriously be 
contended that an appeal to the ghostly mechanics of the elec- 
trolytic action of an agent intellect, species, signa quo, and so 
forth help to make the objective reference of concepts more com- 
prehensible? To justify the evident by means of the hypothetical 
is not a useful undertaking. What we know is that phantasms are 
particular and concepts universal and that nevertheless concepts 
do refer to phantasms. The theory of abstraction is in the main a 
detailed statement of this : it is a careful enumeration of the condi- 
tions of the cognitive situation, but it leaves us none the wiser as 
to "how" ideas came to be, which may, in any case, be an unan- 
swerable question. 


The position is often held that it is only with the judgment that 
we reach existence, the order of ideas being at one remove from 
actual existence. Concepts like "grass," "green," "wicked," "cold," 
"poison," and so forth do not attach the mind to an existing state 
of affairs, but represent ways in which it could be so attached. 
When we advance to the judgment "This grass is green," "This 
man is wicked," "It is cold out," "Poisons are dangerous," we 
insert these meanings into an existential context. The judgment 
affirms, "Thus it is." Until this affirmation is made, the mind has 
not reached existence in a proper sense. 

Now, no one can question that the judgment represents a cogni- 
tive addition to the idea, and yet some qualifications must be made. 
There should be no inference that ideas by themselves are merely 
"free-floating" meanings, detached from all existential setting. 
On the contrary, the reason that the idea as such does not reach 
existence is that it is fuUy immersed in existence. The idea is a 

Conceptual Knowledge 169 

mental reference: as reference it refers to a world of actuality. At 
the stage of idea, it might even be claimed that the mind has not 
yet withdrawn from reahty. It must learn that not all ideas are 
equally referential, or referential in the same way. And it would 
seem that in this disengagement, the judgment has a hand. So that 
the judgment is not only what reaches existence, but some sort of 
judgment is involved in the recognition that every idea does not 
equally reach existence. In other words, the cognitional pre- 
eminence of the judgment is not just that it reaches existence, but 
that it is the instrument for the emergence of existence as such, 
whether reached or un-reached. In a way it is also the judgment 
which reaches essence, since the distinction of essence and exist- 
ence only emerges in the judgment. 

This is not said to countermand the importance of the judg- 
ment, but only to emphasize the existential foundation common to 
aU thought. Once the fissure between essence and existence has 
emerged in the judgment, it is the judgment which re-attaches the 
concept to existence. The judgment is thus involved in the disen- 
gagement of meaning from the immediate, as well as being in- 
volved in discriminating the various ways in which meanings can 
be re-inserted ("man," "centaur," "blindness," "larger," "V^," 
"justice," are not re-inserted in identical ways). 

What the judgment basically does, therefore, is not to examine 
the relation between ideas as disengaged meanings, but to seize a 
present object in terms of these ideas. It applies the idea to the 
singular which confronts it in the existential present. "This man 
is wicked," is not a comparison of the ideas "man" and "wicked" 
but a seizure of the singular through an idea, an affirmation that 
"Thus it is" with a singular object now present to me. Sometimes 
the affirmation may be a bare existential, such as "This man 
exists," or "Scorpions are real," but even when existence is not 
the issue it is at least a concomitant theme. Admittedly this is a 
basic statement, applying most obviously to one particular sort of 
judgment and skipping somewhat hghtly past such judgments as 

170 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

"It is better to suffer than do injustice," "Circles are round," 
"The square root of 9 is 3," "Gravity is a universal factor," and 
a host of others. Some excuse may be given by appealing to the 
primary position of the singular existential judgments; unless we 
made these, there would be no way of making or justifying the 
existential reference of the others. 

In this connection, the problem is often raised about how the 
intellect can know singulars. In order to affirm a meaning of a 
singular, it would have to know the singular, and since it knows 
through concepts (which are universals) there appears to be a 
puzzle about how it can achieve this feat. The familiar answer is 
that it knows the singular by a conversion to the sensory phantasm. 
We may take this to mean: sheer immediacy is contained in the 
senses, and the singular is always given immediately. True 
enough, the singular which the mind is usually after is not the 
singular of the sensory data (the singular "man" or "dog" is not 
the same as that of "red" or "furry") but its presence is experi- 
enced through the sensory data. The words "this" or "that" 
derive their application not from concepts, it might be said, but 
from the sheer here-and-nowness of sense experience. 

This view is acceptable up to a point, but not comprehensive. 
There are many reasons to think that if it is meant to rule out 
non-sensory intuition, it begs the question. Obviously, if by "intel- 
lect," I mean the faculty of conceptualization, then the intellect 
cannot know singulars. This, however, is a tautology: it simply 
states that the faculty by which I know in a non-singular way 
(universals) is the faculty by which I know in a non-singular way. 
This decides nothing about how I do know in a singular way. It 
seems correct enough to say that the senses play a conspicuous 
role in my knowledge of singulars without thereby precluding that 
the singular may be present to me in a non-sensory way as well. 
Subjective and intersubjective experience, in their specifically non- 
sensory aspects, may in fact be a more important source of im- 
mediacy than the senses themselves. 

Conceptual Knowledge 171 


Up to this point we have attempted to clarify and vindicate the 
existence and objective reference of concepts. The traditional 
formula that they have a "foundation in reahty" sufficiently indi- 
cates the extent of this claim to objectivity. The question which 
now naturally presents itself is that of the adequacy and exactitude 
of conceptual knowledge. This question is particularly imposed 
because of the doctrine of the two esse's which may seem to imply 
the total adequacy of concept to reality. In addition, the familiar 
contention among Scholastic philosophers that we have a "knowl- 
edge of essences" reinforces this possible belief that through con- 
cepts we know things exactly as they are in themselves. 

Various ways of speaking lend credence to this attitude: the 
habitual claim that the senses give us superficial knowledge while 
through the intellect we penetrate to the nature of things; the 
insistence upon defining our terms, as if the correct definition 
captured the essence of the object defined; the standard meta- 
physical view that "essence," is the source of intelligibility and 
definition while "existence" is hyper-conceptual and indefinable. 
Consequent upon this latently rationaUst attitude, there has often 
been a tendency to regard the ideal of knowledge as a set of inter- 
locking, objectified, and perfectly transmittable definitions, in 
which our knowledge would perfectly capture experience. There 
are not lacking places in St. Thomas himself where he seems to 
speak as if the definition seized the essence of the object without 
remainder; so that to "know the essence" of a thing was equivalent 
to defining it, and conversely to "define" it was to know its 

Notwithstanding all this, the truth seems to lie in the other 
direction.® Granted that the essence may be the ground of intel- 

^ On a certain ambiguity in this in St. Thomas's thought, see Pierre 
Rousselot, The Intellectualism of St. Thomas, trans, by James O'Mahoney, 
O.F.M. Cap. (New York: Sheed and Ward), 1935, p. lOlss. 

1 72 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

ligibility, granted that it may be what we aim at by means of our 
definitions, this is a far cry from holding that our definition con- 
tains the essence. This question is a many-sided one, and various 
clarifications are in order. What may be said in a preliminary way 
is that the referential character of the concept does not ipso facto 
establish its exact coincidence with the essence of things. It does, 
however, provide one solid reason for saying that we do know 
essences. If to know an "essence" means to know things "as they 
are," our thought surely knows essences, since it is aware of itself 
as a pure reference to things. In making such judgments as "This 
table is brown," "It is windy today," "The game was postponed 
on account of rain," my judgment is aware of itself as a completely 
self-effacing reference to the reality about which I judge, which 
makes no difference whatever to the object in-tended. This much 
is clear. 

Some of the difficulty that arises when we try to go further stems 
from thinking of "knowing" too much by analogy with seeing. 
This analogy is both spontaneous and useful, but it has its built-in 
limits. If knowing is hke seeing, I could begin to feel that if I 
"know" an essence, I ought to be able to enumerate its features 
as I could the features of an object I was "looking at." The trouble 
is that we do not find that the traits of essence are as available 
for listing as this image might suggest. If we regard a possible 
enumeration of features as a requirement of knowing essences, we 
may well hesitate to think that we know essences. Another fre- 
quent manner of conceiving our knowledge of essence, as the 
grasping of the "content" of the known thing, can also confuse 
matters. For we might think that if we lay hold of a "content," 
we ought to be able to unpack it and inspect it — and this we often 
find ourselves unable to do. But knowing is not seeing and it is j 
not grasping contents; knowing is just — knowing. 

To reaUze that both these images are faulty is to make some 
start in understanding how the claim to know essences does not 
entail the claim of a perfect equation between thought and reality. 
It will then not sound so peculiar to say that I can know what 

Conceptual Knowledge 173 

things are without being able to unfold and display their explicit 
content. Surely I know the essence of red, stone, man, dog, water, 
justice, sky; just as surely I cannot define them if called upon to 
do so. The paradox of this claim is reduced if we cease to think 
of knowing in terms of clearly defined viewing, and simply take it 
on its own unique terms. Our "knowing" admits of depths. If we 
must use metaphors (and we probably must) perhaps we might 
think of our knowledge of the essence of a thing as exhibiting 
progressive stages of saturation. This is still an image, and has 
its own limitations, but it has at least the merit of avoiding any 
either/or connotation. The essence is not something I either know 
or do not know, but an intelligible concentrate which may be 
present in weaker or stronger manner. 

Now if our knowledge of essences consists in the progressive 
precipitation of meaning in experience, it clearly cannot be under- 
stood in terms of definition. To be aware of the essence of a thing 
is not to be able to define it. The view that this is what "knowing 
essences" consists of rests on the conception of an essence as a 
"content" which our definition can enclose. Perhaps only with 
artifacts could there be such a perfect equation between definition 
and essence. An artifact really is exhaustively known in our defini- 
tion of it, for its only meaning is the meaning we confer on it. 
There is no antecedent reality in an artifact at all: what it is is 
exhaustively available to our thought, since our thought is the 
measure of its reality. A watch, a table, a hammer, just are what 
they are for human thought. But the reality of natural things is not 
measured by our thought, and their "essence" is not accessible 
to us in the same manner. What is water, tree-ness, justice, a 
man, a stone, color, a cow? Their meaning transcends our thought 
to the exact extent that their being transcends it. Our thought does 
not measure their reaUty but seeks to measure itself by them. Yet 
we can still be said to "know" their reality, since this effort of 
thought to measure itself by these objects is already a knowledge 
of itself as open to them: it is the first precipitate of meaning in 
experience. This "intelligible solution" of thought may become 

1 74 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

more and more saturated with meaning, but it is from the begin- 
ning knowledge of "essences." We may therefore speak of essences 
as being "given" from the beginning, but in a manner which allows 
for an indefinite purification. 

Thomistic philosophy has always held that complex essences are 
reached by a great effort, built up by a process which includes 
judgment and runs the whole gamut of reasoning. Sometimes an 
opposite impression is given when there is glib talk of tree-ness 
or animality, or when class concepts hke dog, cat, mountain, are 
offered as examples of how the intellect "knows" what the senses 
cannot. Yet it should always be kept in mind that these concepts 
are simply meanings which the intellect has been able to precipi- 
tate out of experience at a given stage in the process of thought. 
They are the means by which thought restores itself to an experi- 
ence now rendered more responsive to its needs. Through these 
ideas we may be truly said to "know essences," since our judg- 
ment, in using them, experiences itself as the active assimilation of 
the real. 

But experience is on-going, and these ideas are the creative 
instruments by which thought restores itself to an on-going experi- 
ence. Through these concepts thought spans the flux of experience 
while re-plunging into experience. These concepts are not ways of 
fleeing from time into a secure realm of static abstractions, but 
ways by which thought re-enters time, but re-enters it thought- 
fully. What else does St. Thomas mean by the oft-repeated refrain 
that in order to know, the intellect must return to the phantasms?'' 
We would do better to think of this as a return to experience, 
however, rather than as a return to "phantasms," for St. Thomas's 
phrase suggests a devaluation of experience to the level of sense 
experience, which may be quite unsound. What is emphasized is 
that the meaning of an idea is not something which can be grasped 
in abstraction from experience. It is the paradox of human thought 

'^ Summa Theologiae, I, qu. 84, a. 7. 

Conceptual Knowledge 175 

that it both surmounts time and yet occurs in time and with refer- 
ence to time. 

It is this ambivalent situation which gives rise to the ambiva- 
lence of the claim of thought to "know essences." As a living 
referent to experience, thought is continually aware of itself as this 
knowledge of essences. Under one aspect this knowledge can be 
regarded as a stabilizing movement by which thought frees itself 
from time;^ under another it is a creative means by which thought 
restores itself to time. Now the first aspect of this process can be 
separated from the second, and thought can come to rest in a 
detached and objectified structure which it regards as a terminus 
rather than an instrument. It can then begin to regard its knowl- 
edge of this objectified structure as a "knowledge of essences" and 
then when it defends its grasp of essences, it is speaking not of an 
openness to experience but a closed preoccupation with this simul- 

This way of "knowing essences" is a temptation, not a goal. It 
really represents the temptation of human thought to refuse its 
own conditions and to reify one side of a total process. This is 
what rationalism does. It is also what the human condition itself 
makes us liable to. For man, to think is to communicate; to com- 
municate is to use language; to use language is to objectify. What 
inevitably happens is that our thought, coming to itself in an objec- 
tively established language and culture, often tends to stop with 
the objectification rather than using it to return to experience. 
Examples of this could be endlessly multiplied. Take a man who 
proceeds habitually on a vaguely acquired cultural conviction that 
thought is a matter of brain-processes and is ultimately reducible 
to cortical reflexes. In so far as he comes to rest in these bits of 
"knowledge" and ceases to measure them against experience, his 
thought is spurious. The danger of this seems to be inherent in 
language itself which, while an objectification of the spirit, threat- 

8 Since the universal meaning it discerns is not a particularized and tran- 
sitory item. 

176 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

ens to screen the spirit from its own experience. How many men 
dwell unreflectively in such concepts as people's democracy, liber- 
alism, high standard of living, capitaUst warmongers, our way of 
life? Once philosophers were content to conceive nature in terms 
of substantial forms, natural motion, appetites, and four elements. 
All categories in which thought simply comes to rest detach it from 
experience, the very experience which the categories were devised 
to understand. The genuine meaning which concepts have they 
have in so far as they are beams cast in the direction of experience. 
To know their meaning is, as St. Thomas suggests, to turn to the 
experiences which they illuminate. In so far as it genuinely uses 
concepts, thought grasps itself as referential. 

The interesting point is that human thought grasps itself as 
referential and inadequate. Could we even say that it is referential 
as inadequate?^ That is, in knowing itself as imperfect, as seeking 
fulfilment, thought grasps its reference to what surpasses itself. 
Shall we then say that we can know the essences of things only 
inadequately? But this quickly tends to be reduced to the banality 
that we know essences "partially," which in turn suggests that 
there are a few or many pieces missing from our knowledge. The 
implication is that if thought progressed far enough in the direction 
of supplying the missing pieces (which it is assumed are of the 
same order as the pieces which are present), it would eventually 
attain complete and adequate knowledge. Yet this is erroneous. 

Thought is not inadequate because it is partial. It is inadequate 
because it is nonoriginative. The only knowledge that would be 
adequate is the knowledge that makes a thing. Thus, our knowl- 
edge of an artifact is perfect in so far as the artifact is something 
that owes its being to that knowledge. We know what a table is, 
because we make a table to be what it is. Now it is obvious that 

9 This seems to be in the thought of Marechal, op. cit., when he grounds 
the objectivity of knowledge in the "dynamism" of the intellect, by which it 
is related, as pursuit, to a transcendent reality; in Marechal's view, objec- 
tivity does not derive from sense, but from the partial fulfilment by sense 
reality of the ultimate exigence which is the intellect's mainspring. See 
Le point de depart de la metaphysique, Cahier V, pp. 231-232, 261-262. 

Conceptual Knowledge 177 

in respect to the realities of our experience, we do not make them 
in toto. In so far as their being is not originated by us, they will 
always transcend the power of our thought to know. Our thought 
is always after-thought. As such it is a mode of knowing which is 
essentially inadequate. No amount of supplying "missing pieces" 
will ever fill in this inadequacy, for the necessity of proceeding in 
the manner of "supplying pieces" is already an inadequacy. The 
significant contrast, then, is not between knowing something par- 
tially and knowing it completely, but between knowing something 
originatively and knowing it derivatively. 

No matter how much I know "about" water, a stone, a bird, I 
know them inadequately. Only if I created them would I know 
them adequately, for then my knowledge would be the measure of 
their being. Really, in so far as I know things at all, I know them 
by calling them into the originality which is my thought. We do 
not originate the beings of experience, but when we think, we do 
the next best thing: we address them in their originality and hail 
them into the original process of thought. It is right to speak of 
experience as a "given" from which thought sets out. But experi- 
ence is not given as a possession, as an inert item which we can 
envelop. It is given as an offering. Thought is aware of itself as a 
response to an appeal. Our concept is a substitute for the origina- 
tive knowledge which would know things in creating them. It is 
itself a creative act, and not a "copy" of something already there 
in sense. ^° 

It is surely wrong even to talk of thought "and" experience, as 
if the two were juxtaposed in some way. An experience in which 
thought played no part is just as unthinkable as thought in which 
experience played no part. Thought does not come to experience 
from the outside. Thought, as question, is there from the begin- 
ning; concepts are the crystallizations of questioning thought in 
experience. As such, their meaning is dialectical. That is, it is the 
product of a reciprocal exchange with experience. The concept 

'^^ For a vivid version of this, see Rousselot, op. cit., p. 98 ss. 

178 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

lights up experience, but experience in turn illuminates the con- 
cept. The analogy here is with the idea of the artist, which makes 
the artistic process possible, but which only comes to birth in that 
process. It is the work which reveals the artistic idea — even though 
it is the artistic idea which is the source of the work. Just so, it 
is experience which reveals the meaning of concepts, even though 
it is the concept which makes experience possible. 

Try to think of the meaning of stone, man, justice, color, liberty, 
tiger, purity, apart from their experiential reference, and this state- 
ment will become clear. Unless we conceived meanings we would 
not have the experience we have; but having the experience reflects 
back upon and alters the very concepts which are its own founda- 
tion. Unless the artist had his creative idea, he could not proceed 
to the experience of painting his picture; but as he applies the 
pigments to the canvas, the unfolding picture alters the very idea 
which is bringing it to birth. Because man conceives of "freedom" 
and "democracy" he constructs a society on the basis of these 
ideas; but then the developing society manifests to him what he 
really means by freedom and democracy. In its own way, every 
concept is a creative instrument which both transmutes experience 
and is transmuted by it. 

The virtue of thought is that it is able to carry forward much 
of the meaning it has brought to birth in experience. It is only this 
carrying forward which allows progress to be made at all. This is 
where objectification acquires positive value, since this is what 
permits deductions, interrelations, systematizations. But at no 
point may the objectification be taken as anything but a principle 
of elucidation. Knowledge may enrich itself by commerce among 
concepts, but the whole order of concepts must turn back to the 
canvas of experience or risk total academicism. This is what 
Bergson was driving at in his distinction between pensee pensee 
and pensee pensante: inert, accomplished thought and thought as 
the ceaseless interchange with experience. 




What effect do the remarks of the previous chapter have on the 
question of whether we can know "essences" or "natures?" The 
ease with which this question is raised conceals the vastness of the 
difficulty in answering it. For we could not genuinely answer it 
except in terms of a review of the tremendous range of meaning 
in "essence," a variety too often skipped over. The "essence" 
means the what-ness of a reality, its "such-being." This "whatness" 
we try to grasp in concepts. But let us ask ourselves about the 
status of this "whatness" when we think about: the spirit of the 
times, Western culture, French provincial furniture, man, desk, 
triangle, the middle class, red, sweet, justice, society, virtue, per- 
son, cow, beauty, up, down, larger than, cause, substance, V-l? 
mystery stories, atoms, the second law of thermodynamics, and so 
forth. What does it mean to say that we know the "essence" of 
these things? 

Obviously the meaning of essence undergoes a significant altera- 
tion as it is used in each case. It is legitimate to try to reduce this 
bewildering variety to basic "types," but it is a task of the first 
magnitude. It is by no means clear that to distinguish in a routine 
way between the essence of substance and the essence of accident 
does justice to the situation. Like all divisions, the division of 
reality into substance and accident conceals as much as it reveals. 
We are still at arm's length from understanding what sort of 
knowledge is contained in our conception of the "spirit of the 

180 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

times," "society," or "beauty," if we are content to classify the 
realities thus known as either substantial or accidental. Suffice it 
for this to be pointed out, without attempting the monumental 
task of exploring this question at length. 

Our discussion will be confined to the more familiar and 
straightforward question of what it means to know the essence of 
substantial individuals. This question includes several presupposi- 
tions. It presupposes first that there are individual unities of a 
basic kind, "substances." For our purposes, we may take substance 
to mean a being existing as a complete and unitary principle of 
action, a "nature" of a certain kind. We experience ourselves, most 
people would feel, as such fundamental natures: not superficial 
aspects of some more fundamental entity, but autonomous centers 
of activity. When we observe the rest of reahty, we seem to find 
examples of other such fundamental unities at least analogous to 
ourselves: dogs and cats seem to be individual unities of a funda- 
mental kind; so do rosebushes and oak-trees; chemistry discovers, 
even at the inanimate level, a whole range of molecules and ele- 
ments which seem to provide examples of "natures," basic sources 
of activity. 

Now the question of whether we can know the "essence" of 
such things presupposes also that they are, as fundamental unities, 
determinate in kind. It is not only a metaphysical principle but a 
simple fact of observation that "action follows being." Not just 
anything does just anything. Characteristic activities belong to 
different types of being; that is principally why we speak of differ- 
ent types of being — because we presume a fundamentally diverse 
substantial nature to underMe fundamentally diverse activity. Rose- 
bushes don't practice asceticism; monkeys don't write operas; 
acorns don't develop into cats. There are in nature, prior to any 
human intervention (and providing the indispensable condition 
for the possibility of any effective human intervention), funda- 
mental determinations in the entities we encounter which assure a 
non-arbitrary character to their activity. These fundamental deter- 
minations in the individual unity as unity we call the "essence" 

Thought and Experience: I 181 

of the being. So much is presupposed even in order to raise the 
question of whether we can know the essence of substances. Dis- 
regarding the difficulties which could be raised, let us proceed on 
the assumption of the vahdity of these presuppositions. We will 
ask only whether the claim that we can "know" essences entails 
the claim that our knowledge grasps the fundamental determina- 
tion which makes this being to be what it is: is there a perfect 
equation between our cognition and the fundamental determina- 
tion in the being which characterizes it prior to all cognition? 

It is apparent almost at once that we must draw back from the 
claim that there is such an equation. We have seen already that 
it is an essential characteristic of conceptual knowledge that it is 
derivative; as such it is never the measure of the reality of what 
it knows. If to know a thing through and through is to make it, 
not to make it is not to know it through and through. This is 
apparent whether we feel that the things of experience are "made" 
at aU.^ It is even more apparent if we do believe that they are in 
fact made — created by God. On such a belief, then the only idea 
which adequately knows this plant, this dog, this man, this atom, 
is the divine idea which measures it in its origin. The "essence" of 
these beings is equivalent to the fundamental ontologico-mtelligible 
determination as conceived in the divine mind. This is why Josef 
Pieper will assert^ that far from St. Thomas claiming that we can 
know essences by means of definitions, he holds that we cannot 
know essences at all. In this sense of essence, only creative knowl- 
edge can know the essence of things. 

Sometimes the recognition of this is confined to our grasp of 
the thing qua individual: we cannot know, it is allowed, what 
differentiates John from James or Rover from Fido, but only the 
universal "essence" of man or dog. But this is not enough. On 
the meaning of essence now in question, we cannot even know the 
generic or specific essence. The gap here is not between knowledge 

1 If they are not made, they are not known at all, by anyone. 

2 Josef Pieper, The Silence of St. Thomas, trans, by John Murray, S.J., 
and Daniel O'Connor (New York: Pantheon), 1957, pp. 50-67. 

752 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

of individuals and knowledge of universals (in Aristotle's manner). 
It is between knowledge as derivative and knowledge as origina- 
tive: in so far as the essence of man, dog, rosebush, amoeba, 
means the fundamental determination of these things in their 
origin, our knowledge does not coincide even with the generic 
essence. The "essence" in this sense is hidden in the abyss of the 
divine knowledge, and it would be rash to claim that we can 
plumb that abyss. 

There is still much left, however, to the belief that we can 
know the essence of substantial beings. To know their essence 
means first of all to know them according to the category of 
essence. Thus, what is the difference between merely perceiving a 
cow, and "knowing" it as a cow? Do I know the essence "cow- 
ness?" Well, at least, I know this perceptible datum as a ''being 
which looks like this." Manifested in the sensory experience, I 
grasp a certain fundamental structure; I seize this sensory appear- 
ance as the manifestation of a mode of being which exhibits a 
unity for my thought. Then I understand that the appearance and 
activity which my senses perceive in this case is not a haphazard 
one, but that it possesses a certain necessity. My penetration of 
this necessary structure may admit of many degrees. At first 
encounter, I may simply subsume these perceived data under the 
heading of a "thing" — but doing only so much, I still can claim 
to know the "essence." Even if I don't know the name of what I 
am looking at, it is still "something which looks like this." It is, 
then, the notion of thing or being which provides the basis for our 
knowledge of individual substances. 

We can hardly claim to know the essence of horse, water, rabbit, 
sodium, rosebush, amoeba, in the sense that we can plumb it to 
its depths or that we can define it. In their depth, these things are 
the manifestations of a divine idea; in the essence as conceived in 
that idea, the full richness of actual and potential being of these 
things is meted out to them by this idea. No definition could pos- 
sibly enclose this meaning. This meaning is a source of their 
reality; definition is never a source of meaning. Nevertheless, the 

Thought and Experience: I 183 

claim to know the essence of these things is not empty. We will not 
think it is unless we conceive of knowledge of essence in either/or 
terms. In "knowing" a horse or cow, we think a perceptual ap- 
pearance in its unitary ground. Thought is always at the origin: 
on God's side, creatively, on our side re-creatively.^ Now, that 
experience can be thus dealt with by our thought is sufficient sign 
that we know the essences of things. Our knowledge is an original 
construction by which our thought assimilates itself to the ground 
of an ongoing reality. For our purposes, we discover, in that proc- 
essive reality, structures, articulations, connections, necessities, 
repetitions: we discover them — therefore they are there. Then to 
"know" the essence of water, man, dog, horse, amoeba, stone, and 
so forth is to call forth the ground of unity in these perceptually 
encountered entities. 

In so far as we reach out to this ground of perceptual unity, we 
know essences: we know what things are. A distinction between 
what we might call the "ontological essence" and the "gnoseologi- 
cal essence" would help here.* Let us say that in the being, prior 
to all human knowledge, there is present the determinate source 
of its activity and its potentiality, patent only to the creative 
knowledge whose thought founds its existence. In respect to its 
manifest activity, essence is the super-actual source of activity. This 
"ontological essence" is unreachable by human thought. But our 
knowledge projects itself towards this ultimate ground by its work 
of transforming the merely sensory appearance into a form answer- 
able to the needs of thought. This intelligible transformation can 
go further and further, but at every stage we do know "essences," 
since the gnoseological essence we form is our original creative 
expression of an experience which is grounded in the ontological 

3 See Rousselot, op. cit., pp. 98-122. 

* Georges van Riet, Problemes d'epistemologie (Louvain: Publications 
Universitaires de Louvain), 1960, p. 163, approximates this distinction. In 
effect it is present in Maritain's distinction, op. cit., pp. 91-99, between 
"thing" and "object," the thing being the trans-objective subject existing in 
itself, and the object the thing's cognitional presence to the mind of the 

184 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

essence. We do not know God's idea of horse, nor can we define 
a horse. But in a sense we know the essence of horse, for our idea 
is a transcendence of sense experience towards the ground of the 
unity discernible in that experience. 

Some may feel dissatisfied with this explanation, for it seems to 
leave our knowledge of essences in a fluid state, whereas often the 
insight into essences is thought to be the basis for the stability and 
permanence proper to knowledge. But we must tread carefully 
here. We may first distinguish two things: our knowledge of 
generic structures as precipitated out of the experience of individ- 
uals, and our knowledge of the individuals which we feel to 
embody those structures. Take the process by which we "know" 
a rosebush. First of all we may simply notice it as "a thing that 
looks like this," a "this-something." Then we may find out that its 
name is rosebush. From here we can go on either to enumerate 
the detailed features which are constant concomitants of this per- 
ceptual structure (its leaf pattern, petal arrangement, cell com- 
position, etc.) as scientific knowledge does; or we can grasp it 
philosophically as an instance of what is meant by "plant life." 
In this case we see it as a special perceptual manifestation of 
"immanent activity at the physiological level." The meaning con- 
tained in this notion is a pellucid one, perfectly distinguishable 
from other meanings: in so far as we can apply this meaning to 
the rosebush, we know, in a permanent and unchanging manner, 
certain things about it: it is living, it is self -perfective, it is a 
natural unity of heterogeneous parts. Whatever positive meaning 
is embodied in the gnoseological essence thus conceived I know 
as permanently apphcable to the individual which embodies this 

The only remaining issue is: 1) Does any given instance really 
embody this intelhgibility? 2) Does any given instance embody 
only this intelligibility? The first question, in spite of various obsta- 
cles, we may take to be successfully answerable. But what about 
the second question? Even if I am sure that I am dealing with an 
individual which is really a rosebush, how can I be sure that there 

Thought and Experience: I 185 

is not more meaning in it than this? If it is a rosebush, then I 
cannot say it is inert or a mere aggregate : if it manifests the mean- 
ing I conceive when I conceive "rosebush," then obviously it has 
that meaning, and anything I can say on the basis of this meaning 
will apply permanently and stably to it. Yet how do I know that 
in its ultimate ontological essence it does not embody more than 
this meaning? Perhaps potentially this individual which manifests 
merely vegetative life to me is also a conscious being, even though 
it does not manifest this potentiaUty as yet. After all, if I placed an 
amoeba and a human embryo at the unicellular stage side by side, 
aU I could say about them both, in so far as I knew them accord- 
ing to the actuality they presently manifested, would be that they 
were physiological forms of life. Yet one of these, the human 
embryo, has the potentiality of becoming much more than this, of 
developing into an actually conscious and even thinking individual. 
When I observe the two microscopic cases, I know that they are 
at least physiologically alive; but I do not know that they are 
at most physiologically alive. For the physiological individual may 
(and in one case does) bear within it the potentiality for some- 
thing more. 

If I formed my gnoseological essence of man at the single-cell 
stage, I would completely overlook the wealth of the ontological 
essence. Why could not the same possibility be present in my 
"knowing" of plants, animals, or inanimate beings? Why could 
they not carry ontologically more meaning than they reveal? The 
answer to this seems to be that there is no way I can be sure that 
they do not carry such meaning.^ To a large extent, the tendency 
to assume that reality lives up to the boundary lines drawn by 
my thought is a product of a tendency to see essences from the 
side of classification. If I draw my hnes carefully enough, I can be 
sure that the genera into which I classify things do not overlap. 
But in order to know that individuals which are carriers of these 
genera do not overlap, I must assume that reality stops within 

5 The relevance of this to the process of evolution is too obvious to need 

7 86 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

my boundary lines. The trouble is that the classifying tendency, 
right from its inception in Aristotle, is often preoccupied with 
artifacts, where hard and fast lines can be drawn. "Chairs" and 
"tables" are eternally different; what is one is not the other, nor 
will a chair ever become a table. But that is because an artifact is 
wholly formed to the measure of our concepts. Classification is 
comfortably at home here. Those natural existents, however, which 
have their measure outside of us, cannot be trusted to confine 
themselves to our generic concepts. In regard to natural beings, 
classification is at best an outline of the present and not a precept 
for the future. 

Perhaps there is a great deal more in the individual rosebush, 
dog, atom, or amoeba than I can comprehend. Normally, I pro- 
ceed on the assumption that if a being does not manifest a certain 
perfection, it does not possess it even potentially — but this is not 
an absolute necessity. What occurs is that I detect certain intelli- 
gible facets in the activity of beings: sometimes an event only 
gives me the meaning "motion," sometimes it gives me "self- 
motion," sometimes "consciousness," sometimes "thought." It is 
apparent to me that between these meanings there is an irreducible 
intelligible difference. The difference between "life" and "matter," 
or between "vegetative life" and "conscious life" is just as irre- 
ducible as that between red and green. I have all manner of stable 
and unchanging knowledge on the basis of these differences, and 
in respect to any individual beings which strictly and exclusively 
embody these meanings. 

But there is the catch. How do I know that any individual 
embodies, in its ontological essence, only these meanings?^ How 

« A point along similar lines is made by Nicolai Hartmann, New Ways of 
Ontology, trans, by Reinhard Kuhn (Chicago: Regnery), 1953, pp. 110-112. 
Hartmann holds for a hierarchical gradation in being, but distinguishes 
between a stratification of categories and a stratification of individuals ex- 
hibiting these categories. The categories themselves (inanimate, organic, 
psychic, and spirit), are discrete, but this does not rule out a genetic con- 
tinuity; the categories do not shade off into each other, but the actual 
individuals or structures carrying the categories may. 

Thought and Experience: I 187 

do I know, for example, that the rosebush is not potentially 
conscious? It is hard to avoid the answer that I cannot know this. 
Still this does not mean that I do not know its essence. My knowl- 
edge is a grasp of the actuality manifested in this individual; in 
so far as it really does manifest this actuality, I really do know 
what it is. Maybe it contains more actuality (and more poten- 
tiahty) than I know, but it does contain what I know. Therefore 
it is possible to know all kinds of stable and permanent proposi- 
tions concerning entities which are themselves processive and 


We should examine in this context one of the most interesting 
and influential modern contributions to the question of human 
knowledge, that of pragmatism. Often the pragmatic doctrine is 
summed up in the formula that "truth is what works." A judgment 
is true if, in acting upon it, I achieve results which are useful and 
beneficial; it is false if, when I act upon it, disadvantage ensues. 
If any proposition makes no difference whatsoever to activity, 
then there is little sense in talking about it as either true or false, 
in the pragmatist's estimation. William James put this behef in a 
typically vivid manner when he said that the truth of a proposition 
is in its "cash value." What difference do my judgments make in 
human experience? — that is the pragmatic criterion. For many this 
has appeared to be a complete depreciation of the grandeur of 
truth; no longer is truth measured by the mind's openness to a 
reality beyond the individual, but it is viewed through the specta- 
cles of a crass and vulgar utilitarianism. Let us look at the form 
the theory assumes in the hands of its most systematic exponent, 
John Dewey, to see whether these fears are really justified. 

Dewey approaches his philosophical position from a socio- 
historical direction. '^ He asks: why has traditional philosophy 

7 See John Dewey, The Quest for Certainty; a Study of the Relation of 
Knowledge and Action (New York: Minton, Balch and Co.), 1929. 

1 88 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

tended to dissociate knowledge from action, and to elevate the 
former at the expense of the latter? Contemplation {theorid) was 
viewed by Plato and Aristotle as the supreme good of man, man's 
participation in the ineffable life of the gods, and action was 
looked down upon as extraneous to the true life of the soul. Why 
was this so? The answer, Dewey suggests, is that philosophy came 
into being as a regularization of the quest for security which pre- 
occupied primitive man. At the mercy of a capricious and cruel 
nature, primitive man first sought rehef from the perpetual risk 
of action in magic and the propitiation of the holy. But no efforts 
to banish risk are completely availing within the sphere of action 
itself, which is always parlous and unpredictable. Therefore man 
now retreats to the realm of thought, where, at least, he feels that 
he can find relief from the ceaseless perils of life. Even action can 
afford an awareness of the difference between the recurring and 
the unlooked for, but when philosophy comes on the scene, it 
erects this disparity between the ordinary and the extraordinary 
into a difference between two realms. It decides that theory reaches 
the immutable, the antecedently real, true Being; while action is 
sunk in process, contingency, non-being.* The thought which seeks 
genuine knowledge should turn to the contemplation of this 
superior realm of stable being and leave behind the swirling con- 
fusion of temporal process. If it perseveres, it will discover norms 
for knowing and coercive rules for conduct which are "anteced- 
ently real" — real prior to all human thought — and its true good 
will consist in conforming itself to these transcendent standards. 
The quest for certainty is then simply one side of a quest for 
security, which, as Dewey paints it, appears distinctly pusillani- 
mous. What he suggests is that the whole procedure is mistaken 
and has prevented man from making contact with the wealth of 
his own experience. A new era must begin. Action must be al- 

8 Dewey is thinking of such views as Parmenides' declaration that change 
was an illusion and that true Being was immutable; following him, Plato 
distinguished between the "really real" domain of immutable forms and the 
inferior reality of temporal experience. 

Thought and Experience: I 189 

lowed to evolve its own standards and not forced "to conform to 
what is fixed in the antecedent structures of things."^ Our ideas 
are not privileged glimpses into transcendent standards; they are 
facets of our action. They are conceptions of the possible conse- 
quences of our operations. Where thought begins is where man 
begins — with reality as immediately experienced. This primary 
experience of reality is not itself cognitional; it gives us materials 
for cognition. Through our activity we transform the unruly 
plethora of directly experienced reality into the carrier of human 
values. It is only then that we can be said to know it. Ideas are 
the instruments by which we effect this transformation. 

Often Dewey gives a quasi-biological cast to this position. 
Man's ways of knowing are the instruments he has developed in 
the course of an evolutionary process and their worth derives from 
their eflQciency in furthering his adaptation to the environment. 
Ideas are working hypotheses, or anticipatory plans for projected 
action.^" Inasmuch as these anticipatory plans are fruitful and 
render experience responsive to our needs, they are true. But their 
being "true" does not signify that they are ghmpses into "essences" 
which are concealed somewhere behind experience; it signifies that 
they are instruments for the successful transformation of experi- 
ence. Therefore the criterion for the truth of an idea is not some 
antecedently real essence to which our concept conforms; it is the 
value of the consequences to which this idea leads or would lead 
in experience. Knowledge and action are not, then, directed to 
different realms of reality. They are directed to the only realm 
there is — reality as actually experienced — and knowledge is only 
a kind of anticipatory doing. 

For a long while, many Scholastic philosophers, as well as many 
other philosophers who defended the traditional concept of truth, 
have been repelled by the pragmatic approach and have exercised 
themselves in calling attention to its defects. The obvious aspect 
of relativism inherent in the theory makes their distaste easy to 

9 Op. cit., p. 72. 

10 Ibid., p. 167. 

190 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

understand. There is reason to think, however, that this attitude is 
now passing, and that traditional philosophy will henceforth view 
Dewey's theory in a more favorable way, recognizing it as, in 
some ways, both a confirmation of and advance upon its own 
views of the nature of the concept. What Dewey is saying is not 
too dissimilar to what Thomism stresses against rationalism: that 
the meaning of concepts is not present to us except in an interplay 
with experience. It is surely only the thinker at the lowest rung of 
the ladder who envisions philosophy as a set of ideas which have 
yielded up their meaning without remainder and need only to be 
conscientiously "handed on." Tradition is not transmission; one 
can only "hand on" an idea as an idea, not as an inert thing. 
Much of the diflBculty with Dewey arose because of vocabulary 
differences and differences in intent. If we take the trouble to 
listen to what he is saying, it will often be so obvious (discounting 
the sociological-political-religious bias evident in his approach) 
that one may well wonder how it could be questioned. 

Is it not true that our idea of "what" things are is often, if not 
exclusively, a conception of the consequences of the possible ways 
of acting with or upon them? What does my idea of water, wood, 
grass, horse, amount to? In one sense, it is based on an appear- 
ance, what the thing "looks like." Beyond this, what else do I 
mean by, for example, "water?"^^ It is something which will give 
me a cool, wet feeling if I plunge my hand into it; if I light a fire 
under it, it wiU give off steam; if I push it, it wiU move rapidly 
away from my hand and yet continually surround it; if I drink it, 
it will refresh me; if I bathe in it, it will cleanse me; if I subject 
it to electrolysis, I may break it down into elements. Every one of 
these statements is a statement in respect to action. To "know" 
water, then, is to anticipate the consequences of a certain series of 
actions from and upon an appearance-unity. There is surely no 
particular difficulty with this. A similar point could be made in 
regard to our knowledge of artifacts: what a watch or a chair is is 

" Ibid., p. 158. 

Thought and Experience: I 191 

primarily conceived in terms of what it does. It seems justified to 
say that most of our knowledge of the essences of natural entities 
is likewise founded upon our action upon them and their inter- 
action with us. We certainly do not conceive the "essence" of 
water or stone by reading it off some transcendent standard above 
the flux of time. 

Of course, it may be properly objected against Dewey that 
nobody ever really said we did do this. He has stacked the cards 
against traditional philosophy by presenting a near-caricature of 
its position. In spite of this, he has done something valuable, for 
the distinction between essential knowledge and sense perception 
has historically lent itself to this caricature. It is much too easy 
for one who thinks that he knows essences to cease to test his 
conceptual coinage against the hard floor of experience; he may 
tend to treat his ideas as finished, as closed. The great virtue of 
people like James and Dewey is to bring us back to the wn-finished 
and open character of thought. Human thought is not a timeless 
edifice, but the reflective apprehension of a meaning present in 
temporal experience. The meaning which is present for this 
thought always remains compatible with novelty. 

It must be admitted that Dewey cannot be absolved from a 
share in the blame for the disfavor in which his thought has long 
been held by traditional philosophers. The cavaHer manner in 
which he handles the nature of truth, the failure to clarify important 
issues in this regard, are not to his credit. It is often said, with 
textual basis in Dewey himself, that pragmatism has offered us a 
radically new conception of truth. Actually this is not altogether 
accurate. The older notion of truth continues to be operative in 
pragmatism. Pragmatism is probably better understood as a theory 
of meaning than a theory of truth; better stiU, it is a theory about 
the discovery of truth. 

Dewey is pressing for the fact that the meanings of our thought 
are in perpetual dialectical interplay with experience and action 
and capable of an indefinite enrichment from that source. Our 
knowledge is said to reach "truth" when it gives rise to fruitful 

1 92 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

consequences. But obviously this view presupposes in multiple 
ways the traditional meaning for knowledge. First, it retains the 
pure notion of awareness: no more than anyone else is Dewey able 
to swallow up the irreducible act of awareness in action. Knowl- 
edge cannot entirely be reduced to the consequences of action, for 
there is an inexpungible necessity that we be aware of the conse- 
quences of action, and this meaning for knowing (awareness) 
remains sui generis. Secondly, there is the point that many have 
raised: we must be able to know that we have reached conse- 
quences which are fruitful. This would seem to entail the recogni- 
tion of at least some types of consequences as fruitful in them- 
selves; otherwise the process of reference to further consequences 
would proceed endlessly and knowledge would be by definition 
impossible. What I mean by calling my judgments true cannot sim- 
ply be that they work out, because I must know it as true that they 
work out. Thirdly, while my knowledge of what I mean by water, 
e.g., may be largely in terms of the consequences of projected or 
possible actions, that this meaning really applies to an object re- 
mains true independently of any activity. 

The confusion arises because Dewey fails to distinguish between 
truth and our knowledge of the truth. Granted that in many cases 
we could not know whether a proposition was true or false without 
testing its consequences, the fact remains that what I mean by 
calling it true or false is that my judgment conforms to the way 
things are. That my judgment does conform, I may know only 
after I test it, but its truth is not conferred by the test, but only 
disclosed. This is extremely obvious, and yet it is relevant to 
Dewey's other main point, that knowing does not consist in con- 
forming to an antecedent standard but in consequent utility. What 
is unmistakably antecedent to my knowledge is the structure of 
reaUty which wiU determine the eventual fruitful or noir.-fruitful 
character of my idea. My knowledge does not create the conditions 
of its own fruitfulness. This is the antecedent recognition which 
the pragmatic theory of truth must make. 

Thought and Experience: I 193 

The superiority of the Western view of reality over the tribal 
view was conclusively demonstrated, says Vere Childe, when 
British bullets penetrated the supposedly infaUible magic armor of 
their tribal opponents. ^^ Yes, but the fact that the truth of the 
Western view was thus vindicated only means that its truth came 
to be known through being tested; but that reality wUl vindicate 
one view and repudiate the other is due to the antecedent structure 
of the real itself. The truth of my idea may be measured by its 
consequences, but the consequences are measured against the 
antecedent nature of reality. This realization is inevitable, unless 
we were to maintain the hterally insane view that human thought 
creates ex nihilo the nature of the real. Dewey is really far from 
denying it; it is only that his attention is fixed elsewhere and he 
speaks in neglect of it. There are many occasions where he makes 
it plain that our thought must take account of antecedently real 
conditions. But this means that there is a structure in the real 
independent of all thought on our part. In his own words, nature 
is "potentially intelligible,"" and he is joined in this acknowledg- 
ment by many who espouse a pragmatic or sociological view of 
truth. But this admission is enough to make it plain that the prag- 
matic theory must be inserted into a larger framework in order to 
make its own point. To recognize the potential intelligibility of 
nature is to recognize that our knowledge is measured by a mean- 
ing which transcends it: our actuaHzation of the meaning latent in 
nature cannot proceed arbitrarily. Clearly then, Dewey does not 
and cannot deny that our knowledge must conform to an anteced- 

12 Childe, op. cit., p. 113. 

13 Dewey, op. cit., p. 215. Cf. Vere Childe's remark that the assumption 
of all inquiry is that reality has a pattern (op. cit., p. 63); similarly C. I. 
Lewis, Mind and the World Order, p. 343, declares that the requirement for 
the possibility of knowledge is that the world be "orderly," that it be suscep- 
tible to organized knowledge. See, too, the further statements of Dewey, pp. 
148, 164, 167, which grant some standing to pre-existing conditions. The 
alternative to such acknowledgments is actually chaos. But it is not seen 
clearly enough that even a minimal acknowledgment of this kind concedes 
the most important point to the traditional theory of truth. 

194 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

ent realm of meaning. He is really concerned with the manner in 
which we bring this potential meaning to light; his decision is that 
for man action is an instrument of knowledge. Our knowledge of 
nature is principally a product of our ability to act upon nature. 

Even so, some might take exception to this approach, since it 
confines our knowledge to nature itself and seems to preclude any 
transcendent use of concepts. If our knowledge is principally of the 
consequences of action, the full range of intelligibihty seems to be 
limited to the realm of action, and Dewey is quite consistent in 
the "naturalism" which rules out metaphysics. Could we allow full 
scope to his approach and still admit metaphysics into the realm 
of knowledge? Does Dewey's approach admit of being completed 
in the direction of metaphysics? There does not seem any com- 
pelling reason to deny the possibility. All that is required is that 
we see human knowledge as the rising towards an absolute out of 
an experiential ambience. What Dewey leaves unexplained (what 
no genetic or naturahstic theory can explain) is the original 
contribution of thought by which man is impelled to think experi- 
ence at all. This original impulsion is already a participation in an 
absolute, and renders all naturalism inadequate. Surely it is right 
to say that thought only comes to recognize its own participation 
in the absolute through a continuing dialog with experience — 
but what it reads out of experience is not just experience, but 
experience as held fast in the questionability of being. The more 
I search, the more I am able to become aware of reality as inex- 
haustibly searchable. Then there is no contradiction in viewing 
thought's orientation to time as simultaneously an orientation to 
the absolute — for its way of being oriented to time is a way only 
possible for a being oriented to the absolute. Human thought is 
not oriented to the absolute by means of the brittle clarity of 
concepts but by means of their unclarity. For our thought, the sign 
of depth is darkness. A thought oriented to experience is nearer 
to the presence of this darkness and mystery than a thought pre- 
occupied with glossy conceptual security. 

Thought and Experience: I 195 

The fact that Dewey often selected science as the example of 
the interplay of knowledge and action has led to the erroneous 
impression that he depreciates other sources of cognition. The 
fact is that he is to be counted among those who stress the abstract 
character of the scientific method; he expressly declares that 
scientific "objects" do not have any privileged status. They are 
ways in which we enrich the ordinary objects of experience with 
meaning, but "the final thing is appreciation and use of things of 
direct experience."^* Nor does Dewey mean by "experience" what 
a sensist like Hume would mean by it, a series of sense impressions. 
He is talking about the fullness of life-experience, which is a 
variegated qualitative panorama. Not only does he deny the right 
of the scientist to construct reality solely in the image of the 
primary qualities and to consign the secondary qualities to limbo,^^ 
but he frequently defends the irreducible status of the whole 
qualitative face of lived experience: 

Empirically, things are poignant, tragic, beautiful, humorous, settled, 
disturbed, comfortable, annoying, barren, harsh, consoling, splendid, 
fearful; are such immediately and in their own right and behalf.^^ 

Science is one highly selective way of thinking about experience, 
but there are open to man many kinds of knowledge — that of the 
historian, the poet, the artist, and so forth. These are independently 
cognitional and do not have to justify themselves to the canons of 
science. Once we abjure the "spectator" attitude of the scientist, 
and realize that all knowledge is tributary to the lived participation 
in experience, we will no longer see any need for a slavish sub- 
servience to the world- view of science. 

If Dewey's insights are to be incorporated into traditional 
philosophy, they must be supplied with a metaphysical foundation. 

"/6irf., pp. 221-222. 
15/6/i/., pp. 104, 120-121, 131. 

16 John Dewey, Experience and Nature (New York: Dover Publications), 
1958, p. 96. 

1 96 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

But once they are supplied with such foundation, the incorporation 
would not appear to be very difficult.^'^ No traditional philosopher, 
however he may sometimes talk, really feels that he can "read 
off" essences in the manner that Dewey abhors. Our knowledge 
of essence is a product of a continual traffic with experience. Does 
Dewey preclude a resulting knowledge of "natures" or "essences?" 
He himself may neglect it, but his philosophy, like all thought, 
presumes the antecedent structure of the real. Our knowledge of 
"human nature" or "animal nature" would then be the gnoseologi- 
cal deposit which experience has left in thought. But on the basis 
of this deposit of actual intelligibility, we may claim to say various 
permanendy true things about man. For example, we may know 
him as a "person" and know that certain behavior towards him is 
forever incompatible with his worth as a person. We don't "read 
off" the essence of person, but we do awake progressively to it in 
the confrontation with experience. Having awakened to it, we are 
then in the presence of meaning which is not ephemeral but 
enduring. Nothing that Dewey says can eliminate the possibility 
of this; much that he says is enlightening in showing us how this 
awakening is to be pursued. Finally, much of what he says is a 
salutary warning against a premature belief that it has been con- 
summated; we are stQl in the process of finding out what man is, 
just as we are still in the process of finding out what reaUty as a 
whole is. 

Obviously, many of the questions raised by Dewey's approach 
come up in the field of ethics, in which traditional philosophy has 
rehed on the "natural law" approach. If the "natures" of things 
are as elusive as Dewey indicates, small room would seem to be 
left to settle ethical questions by measuring human actions against 

i'^ For a sympathetic discussion of Dewey by representatives of tradi- 
tional philosophy, see John Dewey: His Thought and Influence, edit, by 
John Blewett, S.J. (New York: Fordham University Press), 1960, and 
Robert J. Roth, S.J., John Dewey and Self-Realization (Englewood Cliffs, 
N.J.: Prentice-Hall), 1962. 

Thought and Experience: I 197 

the "nature" of man. But even here the disparity between Dewey 
and Thomistic philosophy is more apparent than real. No natural 
law advocate with any sophistication applies this method in a 
pseudo-deductive fashion, but always proceeds circumstantially 
and historically; conversely, no Deweyite can really ignore 
"essences," since this is the presumed criterion to which experience 
converges. Neither Thomist nor Deweyite would think it desirable 
that man act in an inhuman way. Dewey stresses the role of 
experience in deciding what is the properly human conduct; 
Thomism stresses the imperium of man's nature in enforcing an 
unconditional sanction to this demand for genuinely human action. 


The contemporary mind finds it natural to pose speculation 
about the relation of thought and experience in terms of the social 
and historical character of thought. It was Hegel who first empha- 
sized the omni-historical character of concrete reahty, and the 
19th century learned its lesson well, as the ideology of Marx and 
the biology of Darwin show. As a result, we cannot today con- 
ceive of any existent in isolation from its historical dimension, 
and knowledge is no exception. Epistemology may consider the 
historical dimension of knowledge in two ways : first, as a difliculty 
in the way of the claim that we reach objective truth, secondly, as 
a contribution towards the understanding of the meaning of 

It is the first question which has usually preoccupied epis- 
temologists. How can a thought which is circumscribed in time and 
culture mount above time to a stable and independent order of 
truth? At the very least we must wonder about this, and more 
than one will be inclined to view "objectivity" and "historicity" as 
mutually exclusive; a thought constituted by social and historical 
processes is, in this opinion, essentially doomed to relativism. For 
the way things appear to it from its social and historical perspective 

198 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

is not necessarily the way they will appear to a thought in a 
different social and historical perspective; what is "true" today is 
not necessarily true tomorrow, or the next day, or for all men. 

Now two points may be quickly made: it is quite evident that 
human thought is socially and historically conditioned; it is by 
no means evident that this leads to relativism. After all, in this case 
what is historical is thought: not dress, custom, or conduct, but 
thought. What makes thought historical is not the same thing that 
makes it thought. The task for the philosophy of knowledge is to 
do justice both to the historical character of thought and to its 
cognitional character. That it can have both is plain from the out- 
set, for the power of thought to recognize its own social and 
historical limitations is, in a sense, already evidence for its tran- 
scendence of those limitations. 

It is only from the standpoint of a hyper-scrupulous rationalism 
that the historical character of thought should appear as a scandal 
and a threat. For one who regards his ideas as mental properties 
whose content can be publicly displayed, the notion of a "develop- 
ment of truth" is very trying. He feels that one either "has" or 
"does not have" these ideas, either possesses or does not possess 
the truth. Yet, if an idea really is a creative apprehension, then it 
is not something one "has" at all, any more than the artist "has" 
his creative idea. To acknowledge this is not to surrender the 
domain of truth, but to occupy it more effectively. The unity of 
knowledge is not destroyed by its being subject to growth and 
development, any more than the unity of the individual self is 
destroyed by the development of the individual consciousness. 

The meaning of "development" can probably most easily be 
brought out by reference to the development of individual con- 
sciousness. Development is not a process of the addition of items 
to an originally meager supply. It is the simultaneous transfor- 
mation and preservation of previous states. The adult's conscious- 
ness is not related to his childhood consciousness simply by way 
of addition or replacement; it is at once continuous with and 

Thought and Experience: I 199 

beyond his childhood self. Nothing is preserved in consciousness 
except by being transformed. It is transformation which provides 
continuity. In a somewhat similar way, the history of philosophical 
ideas should be conceived neither as an addition of intact items of 
knowledge nor as a rivalry between competing items. Part of the 
trouble is that we instinctively think of "knowledge" rather than 
of knowing. No knowledge is separable from the minds in which 
it comes to birth. Philosophical categories are not things literally 
"handed down" through the generations. They exist only in so far 
as the process of thought exists; what really traverses time is the 
process of thinking. A conversation between minds is not the 
transferring of objective thought-items back and forth; it is a 
mutual turning of minds to each other and to the process in which 
alone minds really exist. "Objectivity" is generated by the exist- 
ence of this process; the very idea of objectivity rests on the 
notion of a datum to which many minds can mutually refer them- 
selves, and it therefore presupposes the living dialog between 
minds. The possibility of communication (commun-ication) is a 
testimony to such a common reference. Then the historical char- 
acter of thought cannot mihtate against objectivity, since it is one 
component of the conception of objectivity. 

But could not one retort that what objectivity presupposes is 
that an identical datum is there for a multiplicity of minds, and 
that if the sociologists of knowledge are correct, this cannot be so? 
It is one of their favorite themes, usually directed specifically 
against positivism, that the notion of a "pure fact" is a myth.^^ A 
"social a priori" provides the frame of reference within which 
every empirical datum is seen; all human knowledge is ineradicably 
"perspectival" and to achieve an objectivity unaffected by the 
social perspective is a hopeless ambition. It is quite apparent that 

18 Karl Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge, edit, by Paul 
Kecskemeti (New York: Oxford U. Press), 1952, pp. 150ss; Werner Stark, 
The Sociology of Knowledge (Glencoe, 111.: The Free Press), 1958, p. 126; 
Lewis, op. cit., p. 121ss.; Childe, op. cit., p. 54, 

200 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

this difficulty is one manifestation of the larger puzzle about how 
a thought which arises out of a non-cognitional background can 
be truly objective. With good reason, then, Karl Mannheim, one 
of the pioneers in the field, defined the sociology of knowledge as 
the analysis of the "relationship between knowledge and exist- 
ence."^^ Instead of attending to such non-cognitional intrusions 
as diet, physiology, temperament, neurosis, economics, or other 
possible factors, the sociologist concentrates on the social deter- 
minants of thought. But the problem is the same: how can a 
thought which is essentially perspectival reach an absolute? 

That this is not impossible is insisted upon often enough by 
those sociologists of knowledge who protest that they are not 
defending relativism. ^^ Any opinion which held that our thought 
was totally determined by social influences would destroy its own 
value as knowledge; sociological relativism of this type is as self- 
refuting as any total relativism. Describing the social-historical 
dimension of a proposition does not settle its truth or falsity. What 
has to be decided is this: can the notion of truth or falsity really 
apply to perspectival thought? We might begin to draw the teeth 
out of what strikes too many as a grave difficulty merely by asking 
a counter-question: why not? Just examine the supposition which 
is the foundation for the objection. It apparently rests on the 
behef that objective knowledge is equivalent to absolute knowl- 
edge. Or that the absolute must either be revealed absolutely or 
not at all. Failing this, aU other knowledge is robbed of value and 
consigned to a "subjectivist" or "relativist" status. What can be 
the justffication for this very strange belief? Is it supposed to be a 
contradiction that an absolute be revealed perspectivally? To hold 
so would appear to be a flagrant petitio principii. C. I. Lewis 

19 Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, trans, by Louis Wirth and Ed' 
ward Shils (New York: Harcourt, Brace), 1952, p. 237. 

20 See Paul Kecskemeti, in the introduction to Mannheim's Essays on thi 
Sociology of Knowledge, pp. 28-29. Werner Stark adds a strong disclaimed 
of relativism, p. 152ss.; and of course Scheler was strongly anti-relativistic. 
Even Mannheim, who is accused of relativism by Stark, tries to escape its 
clutches, op. cit., p. 171. 

Thought and Experience: I 201 

points out in a somewhat different connection,^^ the fact that A 
presents different perspectives to x, y and z is no argument 
against the existence of A but rather an argument for it. A similar 
thought prompts Werner Stark to adopt the device: "To the 
absolute through the relative, "^^ He means this in the manner of 
Max Scheler, from whose writings the contemporary sociology of 
knowledge may be said to spring; for Scheler, the perspectival 
manifestation of "essences" like "man," "justice," or "good" 
were obscure revelations of an eternal eidos (an ideal archetype) 
which could be descried through them,-^ But a similar statement 
could be made in respect to the Absolute which is the ground of 
all existence, even if we frame this merely hypothetically. K there 
is an Absolute Source of existence, it can obviously not be 
revealed absolutely to finite existents; yet it is nonsense to think 
that this would logically preclude all approach of the finite to the 
Absolute. What it does mean is that every revelation is at the 
same time a concealment. 

The possibihty that man's perspectival knowledge can reach 
insights with enduring value sounds presumptuous largely because 
it is too often discussed in generalities without reference to the 
many simple instances where the possibiHty is evidently actualized. 
Once our consciousness has awakened sufficiently, we are able to 
understand very well the truth that "Kindness is better than 
cruelty," "Hitler's slaughter of the Jews was a monstrous crime," 
or the falsity of "Slavery is preferable to freedom," "Conceit is a 
moral virtue," or "Children ought to despise their parents." To 
say that we know these truths is not even to say that we have a 
clear idea of "kindness" or "slavery" — the "exact" meaning of 
terms like this is a will o' the wisp. Yet, we nevertheless know 
that the truths enunciated in these propositions in some sense 

21 Lewis, op. cit., p. 178ss. Lewis's thought in this work, however, has 
strong elements of relativism. 

22 StarJc, op. cit., p. 196. 

23 See Stark's summary of Scheler's work, Die Wissenformen und die 
Gesellschaft (1926), op. cit., p. 328ss. 

202 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

transcend time. "Kindness" is only perspectivally revealed to me — 
but on the basis of this revelation I know that no future social 
perspective will warrant anyone to judge truly that cruelty is 
better than kindness. It does no good to argue that many issues 
are much more obscure than this, for the existence of obscure 
cases must be understood from the vantage point of non-obscure 
cases, and not vice versa. Nor can the lack of a consensus be 
conclusive. What we are trying to vindicate is the possibility of 
enduring insight arising out of perspectival knowledge, and there 
is no caU to be optimistic about its frequency and certainly no call 
to assume that this insight will have the support of a social con- 
sensus. The basic theoretical issue is sometimes confused with the 
practical one of how we can decide between divergent perspectives, 
which is quite a different question. Since no human agent, indi- 
vidual or political, transcends the perspectival condition, it is the 
part of poUtical wisdom to refrain from imposing any perspective 
by coercion — but that is quite a different thing from the admission 
that one perspective is as good as another. We know very well from 
our own individual consciousness that at some moments our vision 
is clearer than others; we would not say about ourselves that all 
our opinions are equally enlightening, nor should we say it about 
humanity in general. 

The more ontologically rich are the categories, the more they 
will be subject to development. It is difficult to credit that notions 
like "substance," "thing," "knowledge," "matter," "good," "I," 
"person," "God," "necessity," "freedom," "love," have some 
univocal packet of meaning which is transferred through the ages. 
Take a concept like "substance," which begins with Aristotle and 
continues through St. Thomas, Descartes, Spinoza, Hegel, and 
the modems. When the modern Thomist uses the word does he 
mean the same thing as Aristotle? The answer seems to be "yes 
and no." And this does not signify that he means the same thing 
plus a few more things. The successive transformations under- 
gone by the word do not allow us to identify some univocal core 

Thought and Experience: I 203 

of meaning. To cite only one example: the distinction between 
essence and existence, which Aristotle did not make, is not merely 
added to the notion of substance which he had, but it completely 
transforms this notion. Likewise, all the philosophical categories 
have histories. Their continuity gives us a kind of one-many rela- 
tion through time; they are analogically, rather than univocaUy, 

Only the abstract is non-historical. Philosophy is, or should be, 
an effort to think the concrete. That is why it cannot attempt to 
surmount the conditions of temporality by seeking out categories 
which seem to be exempt from history, as do mathematics and 
logic. It is true that any mind at any socio-historical perspective 
would have to agree on the validity of an inference like: If A, 
then B; but A; then B. But such truths are purely formal and do 
not tell anything about the character of existence. If metaphysics 
views its categories as intelligible in the same manner, it has really 
taken refuge in formalism and forsworn the concrete. That is why 
a metaphysics which conceives itself in this way has such a hollow 
ring to it. 

Let us now consider the second aspect of the sociology of 
knowledge, its positive contribution. For the impression must not 
be left that the social and historical dimensions of knowledge are 
simply a diflficulty to be somehow "handled" by one who wants to 
continue to maintain the objective value of our knowledge. This 
would be to miss the very real contribution made by the modem 
historical mode of thought to our appreciation of what objectivity 
is. Here we may advert to the remarks made in connection with 
Kant's view that we can only be properly said to know things and 
that only phenomenal consciousness (a combination of formal 
category and sense intuition) apprehends things. To this we may 
add, with Dewey and the pragmatists, that action is also involved 
in the conception of a "thing."^* There appears to be, at a mini- 

2* See esp. Lewis, op. cit., p. 142. 

204 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

mum, a genuine psychological justification for saying that our 
knowledge feels truncated unless it is dealing with "things" and 
that a thing is a triplex of concept, sense, and action. That is why 
Kant withheld the label of "knowledge" from metaphysical con- 
cepts, since they did not bear upon things in this sense. 

Now with this in mind we may confer a very positive cogni- 
tional relevance on the social and historical dimensions of human 
existence. For if metaphysical categories like "being," "soul," 
"God," "immortality," "freedom," "love," "person," and so 
forth are to afford us the same assurance as phenomenal knowl- 
edge, they must be filled in with some kind of content — they must 
begin to bear upon something approximating a "thing." Now 
obviously this content cannot come from the side of sense intuition 
as such, which cannot exhibit these notions. It might come, how- 
ever, from action of a superior kind. And here is where the social 
and historical dimensions become extremely relevant. For it is 
through his higher activity as a social and historical being that 
man gives a visible manifestation to the meaning creatively appre- 
hended in these philosophical concepts. His grasp of himself as a 
trans-phenomenal being is weakened and rendered cognitionally 
unstable unless he can read it back out of his existence. Therefore, 
the historical process by which he creates an authentic human 
existence for himself is integral to the cognitive grasp of the tran- 
scendent dimension of reahty. 

In line with the analogy we have used before: as the artist 
cannot afl&rm his creative idea except as he embodies it on canvas, 
so man cannot affirm the transcendent character of his own 
existence except as he embodies it in history and society. Or to 
revert to the comparison with individual consciousness: A man 
says "I" at five and at fifty. But his meaning for that word has 
radically developed and is inseparable from the life-process in 
which he has learned it; so, too, humanity recognizes itself as 
"man" throughout human history, but it must learn what it means 
to be man, and that meaning is inseparable from the historical 

Thought and Experience: I 205 

process. ^^ Can anyone seriously contest that we are in a better 
position today to understand what it means to be a person than 
was, say, a slave in pharaoh's Egypt? Man knows what it means to 
be a person by making himself a person. 

We could say similar things about the other categories: we con- 
vince ourselves of immortality by bringing forth immortal works, 
of love by creating the climate in which it may flower, of freedom 
by producing a free society. Most audaciously, could we even say 
that in order to know God, we must make God? That is, we must 
make the reality of God in-stant in human existence. We must 
bring God forth from hiding and let Him appear as the ultimate 
meaning of human existence. Such a conviction seems to have 
animated the thought of Teilhard de Chardin.^^ His phenomenology 
of man is a phenomenology of man as a movement to the end of 
history. The intelhgibihty of the end falls across the present. 
Perhaps only at the Omega Point do we really know God truly, 
but we may speak less and less stammeringly as we move toward 
that point. And thus the historical growth which propels this 
movement is an integral part of our cognition. 

In speaking thus, in trying to do justice to the relation of history 
and knowledge, we must beware of any vulgar optimism which 
reduces the whole discussion to the single word, "progress." 
"Progress" is a word to beware of in philosophy, for there is a 
sense in which philosophy is more a continual thinking at the 
origin than it is a progress. Certainly there is no guarantee that a 
thinker who appears later on the historical scene than another 
automatically stands at a better vantage-point for the vision of 
philosophical truth; as an example, nothing said above would 
commit us to the belief that Sidney Hook is a better philosophical 
guide than Plato. Things are not that simple. Just as there are 

25 Cf. Michael Polanyi, The Study of Man (Chicago: University of Chi- 
cago Press), 1959, pp. 82-83. 

26 See Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, trans, by 
Bernard Wall (New York: Harper and Bros.), 1959. 

206 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

moments of great purity and intensity in the consciousness of 
individuals by which the rest of their experience can be measured, 
so the great thinkers represent moments of great purity and 
intensity in the consciousness of humanity. What history does is to 
pool the experience of the past and to offer it as a fuller oppor- 
tunity for philosophical penetration. 



Induction is defined as reasoning from particular instances to a 
general conclusion. According to the number of such instances, 
induction is called complete or incomplete. Complete induction 
means reasoning from all existing instances to the generalization; 
incomplete induction means reasoning from less than all existing 
instances to the generalization. Complete induction deserves only 
the briefest notice, since it is "reasoning" only in the loosest sense 
of that word. If I check a certain block and observe successively 
that each single house on the block has a tree planted in front of 
it, I may generalize to the statement "All houses on this block 
have trees." By completely tabulating all instances of this generali- 
zation, I place the generalization beyond doubt and beyond dis- 
pute. The only thing is, I "reason" here in only the weakest sense, 
for all I am doing is stating succinctly what I already know. I have 
not advanced my knowledge, but only summed it up. Therefore, 
while this complete induction is unexceptionable, it is also unin- 
teresting, since if our knowledge were confined to it, we would not 
progress at all. 

Incomplete induction is much more important and also much 
more puzzling. For it seems to involve a process of passing from 
"some to all," a process against which formal logic has consistently 
warned us. (It is well known that the truth of an I or O proposi- 
tion does not warrant an inference to the truth of an A or E 
proposition.) Yet, when we employ incomplete induction, we 

2 08 The -Philosophy of Knowledge 

infer from an observation of either few or many instances (in any 
case, not all instances) that something is true of all instances of 
this class. We do this in an everyday manner when we state con- 
j&dently such familiar facts as that "All men laugh," "All dogs 
bark," or "All unsupported objects fall to the ground." Nobody 
has ever observed all men, all dogs, or all unsupported objects; 
the observation is impossible in these and most cases — which is 
another reason why complete induction is relatively useless. But if 
we haven't observed all cases of a class, how do we know with 
certitude that they must exhibit a certain trait? Why couldn't there 
be non-barking dogs or unsupported objects which remain com- 
fortably suspended in mid-air? 

Yet physical science, and indeed all systematic knowledge, re- 
lies very heavily on incomplete induction. Medicine speaks of the 
properties of a malaria or typhus germ; biology of the normal 
structure of a human cell; chemistry prescribes the atomic structure 
of molecules and lists the weights of elements in a table. Yet 
nobody has observed or could observe all typhus germs, all cells, 
or all elements of a certain kind. How then, by observing only 
some, can we prescribe for what is true of all? How can we 
distinguish a valid induction from a hasty generalization? Nobody 
would, on fair consideration, grant much value to such pretended 
generalizations as "All Irish are drunkards," "All doctors are 
quacks," or "All politicians are cynical." We would counsel a 
person who made such statements that he was judging on the 
basis of a few instances and proceeding fallaciously. When, then, 
are we validly inducing and not generalizing hastily? 

In one sense this question simply means: in what cases are we 
proceeding according to the proper and recognized canons of a 
certain field? Thus, the hasty generalizations cited above sin 
against the cardinal rule of all induction, which states that the 
existence of even a single negative instance destroys the universal 
character of the conclusion. Any pretended induction which vio- 
lates this rule is immediately to be tossed out of court. That much 
is easy to see. To go further in estabhshing the correct procedures 

Thought and Experience: 11 209 

of induction in given areas requires prolonged consideration, and 
practitioners of the separate sciences and of the logic of discovery 
have devoted much time to it. 

Mill's method of agreement and differences is one example of 
an attempt to lay down general criteria. Actually, though, this 
way of stating the question has largely to do with the procedures 
valid in a certain science and is principally to be settled by the 
practitioners of that science. 

The philosophical question proper only begins where this one 
leaves off: after a valid scientific conclusion has been discrimmated 
from an invalid one, what is the status of the knowledge thus 
acquired? Is it merely probable, is it certain, or what? For instance, 
let us say that a chemist can successfully tell the difference between 
the right and wrong way of determining the structure of a molecule 
and can write its formula. The philosophical issue is: having 
arrived at the scientifically correct conclusion, is the knowledge 
which is thus gained absolutely certain or is it simply highly 
probable? The philosophical question does not have to do with the 
Tightness or wrongness of procedures within science, but with the 
question of the status of the knowledge which can be reached with 
this sort of procedure. 


The best known attack ever mounted against the necessity of 
conclusions reached inductively was that made by David Hume in 
the course of his quarrel with the principle of causaHty.^ Hume's 
point may be epitomized in this way: experience is always of 
particulars, and therefore it is always at one remove from any 
generalization that can be made about it. What is given to us is a 
stream of perceptual particulars. No doubt they are linked in 
certain customary sequences, but they are still given as particulars. 
When we try to raise ourselves to an entirely different level and 

'^ Hume Selections, pp. 34-38. (From A Treatise of Human Nature). 

210 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

decree as to how this sequence must appear, we have dealt our- 
selves an extra card. "Laws" of nature pretend to be valid for all 
cases, both observed and unobserved — but where do we find the 
absolute warrant for this? What makes us sure that the cases we 
have not observed must be like the cases we have observed? "All 
unsupported objects fall to the ground," "All hydrogen combines 
with oxygen to form water," — are these really certain pronounce- 
ments or only satisfying probabilities? 

Hume's point can be made especially striking by relating it to 
time. For every "law" of both common sense and science feels 
itself to be a pronouncement about the unobserved events of the 
past and future, as well as about spatially remote and unobservable 
events. But as such, according to Hume, it is proceeding on the 
assumption that the future must resemble the present, and this 
must remain forever an assumption. What makes us so confident 
that it must be true? Just because something has happened in a 
certain manner in the past is no guarantee that it will happen in 
that manner forever afterwards. Perhaps ten thousand years from 
now (or ten seconds from now) the law of gravity will no longer 
hold good. Our mind boggles at the possibility — ^but who can 
prove that it can't be? Or why shouldn't the behavior of bodies 
alter altogether, so that fire no longer burns paper, and hydrogen 
and oxygen no longer combine to give water? We cannot appeal 
to the past to prove what will happen in the future. 

Nor can we even say that in the past the future always resembled 
the past, for that only repeats the issue. Just because the past future 
resembled the past past, how does that prove that the future 
future will resemble the future past? Always involved here, says 
Hume, is an assumption. No appeal to experience can ever justify 
the assumption, for every appeal to experience re-introduces the 
assumption, A pseudo-generalization, such as the appeal to the 
"uniformity of nature" will not help either, since this simply hallows 
as a fact the very principle whose vahdity is at stake. This is the 
question: how can experience ever provide the evidence for a 
pronouncement about what is in principle beyond experience (as 

Thought and Experience: II 211 

the future is always in principle beyond any accumulation of 

Many people at first find Hume's reasoning merely captious. 
But he has actually done thought a great service by placing the 
reality of the empirical in the sharpest relief. Every thinker who 
brings us to the extreme enlarges our vision, since philosophy is a 
matter of thinking at the extreme point. At the same time, it is 
true that not everyone would have this problem quite in Hume's 
manner. For his particular difiiculty is heightened by his basic 
assumption in respect to the character of experience. He believes 
experience to consist in the awareness of a stream of particularized 
impressions given without intrinsic connection. If what is given is 
mere sequence, clearly no reason is discoverable why a past 
sequence should be repeated in the future. Something is missing 
from this picture, however, and it may be variously supplied. 

In the language of Scholastic philosophy, what Hume's sensist 
theory of knowledge does not allow him to recognize is that we 
do not experience mere impressions or activities, we experience 
beings acting. In grasping the events of our experience as the 
activities of different kinds of being, we have passed beyond se- 
quence to the foundation of the successive activity in the nature 
of the beings which are acting. Hume's sensism does not allow 
him to grant meaning to the notion of "nature" or "kind of being," 
but we need limit ourselves thus only if we arbitrarily adopt this 
beginning. Once allowed the realization that there are "things 
which" act, we have the notion of a determinate kind of being 
which underlies its manifestations as their permanent source and 
ground. What a being is, its determinate ontological structure (its 
"essence"), determines what it does. Therefore, we can give at 
least a hypothetical answer to the question of why the future 
should resemble the present. As long as there is this kind of nature 
in existence, it wiU act in a manner proportionate to its nature. 
Action is not arbitrary nor are the experiential sequences ground- 
less: action is rooted in nature, and sequences of action in inter- 
acting natures. And so it is safe to assume that as long as there is 


212 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

the kind of "nature" we call hydrogen or oxygen, there wiU be 
the typical activity proper to this nature. 

Putting things in this way opens up the possibility of a criterion 
for a valid induction. Whenever on the basis of observation of 
particular instances, we may discern that a certain feature or a 
certain way of acting belongs to the nature of which this particular 
is an instance, we may then induce that all instances possessing 
this nature will exhibit this feature or this mode of acting. For, if 
it is founded in the nature of this being, it will be shared by all 
who have the same nature. Thus, we may safely conclude by 
incomplete induction that "All men are risible" (even though we 
have not observed all men) since laughing is a property seen to 
be grounded in the combined animal and rational nature of man. 
We can say this, it is felt, of all possible past and future instances 
of this nature, since it is a property of such a nature. Such a state- 
ment could not be made about "white" or "short" or "strong" 
which are not necessarily connected with the essence "rational 
animal." Wherever we can glimpse the connection between prop- 
erty and nature in this way, we may feel secure in our induction. 

Yes — but the trouble is that this simply tends to transpose the 
problem: how do we know that a certain feature or action belongs 
to the very nature of a thing? In the case of man we may seem to 
have a privileged example, but suppose we take the essence "tiger" 
or "swan." Is "All tigers have stripes" or "No swans are green" 
an example of a valid induction and does it give us absolute cer- 
tainty? This amounts to asking whether "having stripes" is a 
necessary property of the nature of tiger. We might hesitate a long 
while before saying so — even though we may never have observed 
a non-striped tiger. Suppose an offspring were bom to tiger parents 
which was completely non-striped. Most people would probably 
accord him the prerogative of tigerhood in spite of his deficiency. 
And couldn't there just possibly be "green swans?" Or would we 
draw the hne at that? 

What is, at any rate clear, is that we begin to get into a rather 
nebulous area once we pass beyond obvious examples drawn from 

Thought and Experience: II 213 

man's "risibility" or "tool-making ability." The criterion is still the 
same (the necessary connection between feature and nature) but 
the opportunity to apply it is only slight. The trouble is that we 
have comparatively little insight into the "nature" of tigers, swans, 
horses, water, atoms, or the whole panorama of non-human 
entities, and so very little capacity to judge what does or does not 
comport with their nature. It therefore seems that even on the 
philosophical assumption that there are permanent natures, there 
is ample reason to believe that our inductive knowledge of them is 
extremely limited. In the case of the physical "laws" which are 
based on these natures, we must also stop short of claiming an 
unconditional necessity. Even if the universe is a system of per- 
manent natures (which Hume overlooked) the most that this 
would unconditionally warrant is a certitude as to the existence of 
necessary laws, and not a certitude that our knowledge had formu- 
lated them in any particular instance. It would seem that reasoning 
which is inductive in the usual sense and nothing more is going to 
be confined to an approximate and probable conclusion. 


To many minds there is a comparatively easy way out of this 
puzzle about induction, that along the lines so lucidly expounded 
by the logical positivist, A. I. Ayer.^ Ayer's position simply is 
that aside from definitions, all truths about experience are cor- 
rigible in principle and hence merely probable. Conversely, every 
truth which is not corrigible in principle is simply a definition and 
hence tautologous. Thus, suppose we are puzzling our heads over 
the question of whether gold has to be yellow. Ayer would simply 
say that this is a matter of the way we decide to use words. If we 
include as part of our meaning for "gold" the quahty of "being 
yellow," it is the clearest thing in the world that "All gold is 
yellow." If we don't, if we content ourselves with defining gold 

2 Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (New York: Dover Pub- 
lications), n.d., pp. 72, 94-95. 

214 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

without any reference at all to its color (say by reference to its 
atomic weight and structure) and if we are willing to let this be 
what we mean by gold, then there is no reasoning at all which 
would ever sufficiently establish that whatever fulfills this defini- 
tion must unconditionally also be yellow. Every time we discover 
that an instance of this definition is also yellow, we are really 
discovering something; but because we are, we cannot say that 
this connection must hold good in every future case. Our assertion 
is "corrigible" — future experience may show that something can 
have all the other properties of gold and yet not be yellow. 

So with "green swans" or "non-striped tigers" — to ask whether 
these things are possible is just to ask whether you would be will- 
ing to call such things tigers or swans; and to ask this is just to 
ask how much you include in the definition of tiger or swan. 
Someone who roundly asserts that "No swans are green" is simply 
declaring that he will not acknowledge that any green thing is a 
swan. Or suppose a chemist came upon an element which gave all 
the other reactions of hydrogen and yet stubbornly refused to 
combine with oxygen into water. In all likehhood, he would at 
length decide that this element could not be hydrogen but some 
hitherto undiscovered element; which would only indicate that he 
must be able to say that "All hydrogen combines with oxygen to 
form water," because otherwise he will not recognize it as 

But then all pretended inductive generalizations are really defi- 
nitions. "All gold is yellow" would not be a statement about 
experience but a statement about how I have decided to use words. 
I include the property of being yellow as a defining characteristic 
of gold — and hence I can safely declare that all gold is yellow. If 
it isn't, it is not what I mean by gold. No experience can correct 
my statement since it is not a statement about experience. In a 
parallel way, if I were to mvent a word "brable" to signify "tables 
which are brown," then the statement "All brables are brown" 
is unconditionally true, and no experience in the future can ever 
contradict it or make me rescind it. But it is true because it is a 

Thought and Experience: II 215 

tautology: the predicate repeats what is already contained in the 
subject. According to Ayer we have a simple choice: to make 
statements which really do refer to experience — but which are 
then open to correction by future experience; or to seek the un- 
conditionally valid — but then we are simply decreeing how we will 
use words, and not reveahng anything about experience at all.^ 

The gist of Ayer's position is quite similar to that of Hume: 
we cannot make necessary statements about experience as such. 
Now in great part this is what philosophy aspires to do. It is not 
satisfied as some mathematicians might be, to think of itself as 
elaborating the implications of concepts; it wants to achieve neces- 
sary insights into existence. Ayer tells us that this is impossible. 
But if we look more closely, we find that the basis of the impossi- 
bility is that the evidence to warrant necessity is unavailable — and 
this in turn directs our attention to Ayer's narrow view of what is 
evidential. To speak about experience is, in his view, to speak 
about a sequence of sense data; what is "given" is this sequence 
and every meaningful statement must refer to this sequence or 
else be tautologous. This is the gist of his "principle of verifiabil- 
ity." He denies all role to what could in any way be called intel- 
lectual intuition. To surmount his view, then, it is only necessary 
to inquire whether he is entitled to restrict knowledge in this 

In answering this question, traditional philosophy instinctively 
thinks of the notions of being, unity, cause, substance, essence and 
so forth, which it regards as fundamentally intelHgible and yet 
not in a manner acceptable to the verifiability principle. Nor does 
it regard these conceptions as purely formal in Kant's manner. It 
holds that there are data which are available to intellectual intui- 
tion which are not given to the senses — although they are given 
through the senses. Unless this is understood, the old Scholastic 
formula, "Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu" 
would be rather hard to distinguish from the verifiabihty principle. 

3 Ibid., pp. 77, 95-96. 

27 6 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

Ayer wants to reduce all meaning to what is available for the 
senses; but these meanings are not so available. Scholastic philoso- 
phy, in pressing for their non-tautologous necessity, is really 
holding that we can know more than is available in and for the 
senses. Thus the proposition "Every event requires a cause" is not 
a tautology, but a statement about experience which necessarily 
holds good. It is not precisely reached by "induction" in the usual 
sense; the universal meaning is not the result of an extrapolation 
of particular observations, but discovered with necessity in each 
particular instance. 

Here it seems a definite concession must be made to the opin- 
ion of those like Ayer. Induction considered simply as enumera- 
tion will apparently never give necessity. That is, the inteUigibility 
which consists in adding up particulars and nothing more is 
excluded from the domain of necessity. Where what appears to be 
enumerative induction leads to necessary conclusions, it will turn 
out that something more than this was involved. Thus, even in the 
example, "All men laugh," this is not a conclusion reached by the 
extrapolation of a merely enumerative induction. It is an insight 
into the relation between rationality and risibihty, an insight for 
which enumeration might provide a favorable occasion, but which 
is theoretically possible on the basis of a single case. 

What is usually called induction, then, is really an amalgam of 
enumeration and insight. Where the latter is not possible — where 
the meanings dealt with are too opaque ("swans," or "tigers," for 
example) — induction can never rise beyond probability. When we 
can rise beyond probability, then some role must be allowed for 
insight. That is, the particular must be capable of being the vehicle 
for a revelation which is at once existential and intelligible. Ayer 
would not admit this, but his reason for refusing to do so is the 
verifiability principle, which tends to beg the whole question: if 
we assume that this is the criterion for meaningful statements, 
then necessary statements about experience are, of course, elim- 
inated. But why assume it? 

Could we not go much further than the habitual reply of 

Thought and Experience: 11 217 

Scholastic philosophy, which is usually confined to the metaphysi- 
cal principles and certain large distinctions between inanimate 
things, plants, animals, and men? There would seem to be a whole 
range of meaning which we can know in a manner other than what 
Ayer suggests. His fundamental mistake is to equate knowing with 
definition. This approach inclines us too hastily to the belief that 
all definitions have the same status. I can define terms any way I 
like, and then whatever I go on to say on the basis of these defini- 
tions is irreproachable — but not informative about experience. We 
tend to forget that the possibility would still be open that some of 
our definitions reach unities which exist as such beyond our 
thought, even if others are merely verbal. We forget this because 
the approach from the side of definition turns us away from experi- 
enced reality towards the attempt to express it verbally. If we 
recognize that any definition is simply an attempt to envelop suc- 
cinctly features which have been experientially encountered, we 
may think differently. 

If we can know reality without being able to define it, then 
some experience may provide a foundation for necessary truth. It 
surely seems accurate to say that we can know by acquaintance 
whole swathes of experience long before we can define them (if 
we ever can). I know what it means, in a sense, to think, exist, 
will, hope, remember, live, rejoice, admire, disapprove, and so 
forth, entirely apart from any definition. And because I "know" 
these things, I know with necessity certain truths about these 
processes which are not tautologous. Thus I may be said to know 
that "Memory involves an identity through time" and I can dis- 
cover by laborious penetration of my direct (but obscure) knowl- 
edge of remembering that "Memory is not to be equated with 
mechanical repetition," which is what Bergson did in one of the 
most acute philosophical reflections ever carried out. The first 
proposition I may know rather easily, the second only after pro- 
found thought; but in each case I know two things: there is an 
existential reaUty reached by my concept "memory," and the 
proposition I now enunciate is necessarily true about this reality. 

218 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

This proposition is not a matter of definition and not a tautology. 
It is an insight that has been reached by bringing into sharp focus 
the intelligible components and consequences of a meaning usually 
present in an obscure manner. 

I do not begin with a "definition" of memory and then see 
what it "contains." I begin with the experience of memory, and 
as I bring it into clearer focus, I have the insight that the experi- 
ence I undergo in "remembering" is an intelligible constellation 
whose figure I can discern at least to some extent. Likewise, the 
basis for my apprehension of the truth of the proposition "Moral 
values are not reducible to self interest" or "One man should not 
utilize another as a mere thing" is not the fact that I perceive that 
the predicate is contained in the definition I have assigned to the 
subject. It is the fact that as my thought turns to the Uved experi- 
ential encounter with man or moral value, it is able to lay bare the 
strata of meaning contamed in these experiences. Our thought 
reaches necessary insight in experience and about experience. That 
this is possible, Ayer's theory notwithstanding, is attested only in 
the doing of it. 


Probably no one has contributed more to our understanding of 
this point than has Dietrich von Hildebrand, in whose writings it 
is a main theme.* In keeping with the phenomenological school 
from which he derives, von Hildebrand stresses that all philo- 
sophical thought must gravitate around a "given" which is embed- 
ded in lived experience. This notion of a "given" should not be 
construed as a dogmatic club to silence discussion. The point is 
only that reflective thought takes its rise from a fuller experiential 
source and must be faithful to that source. The "given" is not 
necessarily what is plainly available to everybody. It may be a 

4 Dietrich von Hildebrand, What is Philosophy? (Milwaukee: Bruce), 
1960, Chapters IV, VII. 

Thought and Experience: II 219 

matter of the greatest exertion to get back to original experience; 
there is reason to think that philosophical genius consists primarily 
in this rare ability. The fact remains that thought should be con- 
tinually conscious of proceeding with reference to this experience. 
Von Hildebrand holds that our thought may discover in experi- 
ence meanings which are indisputably there and indisputably real, 
and which are apprehended in a way that allows "eternally true" 
statements to be made on the basis of them. These "givens" are 
not grasped in conceptual definitions but hved encounters, and 
hence the insights founded upon them are unconditionally refer- 
ential to reality. The examples suggested above might be supple- 
mented by others such as these: "Moral values presuppose a 
person," "A promise founds an obligation," "Love entails a will 
for the good of the other," "It is better to suffer injustice than to 
do injustice," "Generosity is different from purity." 

Certain realms afford us the opportunity for a fruitful penetra- 
tion not open in others. It may be that my meaning for "atom," 
"electron," "swan," or "gold" is, beyond a certain point, largely a 
matter of construction. But my meaning for "person," "love," or 
"justice" is not a matter of construction but is founded upon direct 
experience. I do not really "induce" these things in the familiar 
sense. I grasp them in their singular manifestations, and I find 
that, having grasped them, they provide me with a depth I may 
continually explore. If I am to make necessary statements about 
"swan" or "gold" I must rise beyond their specific character to 
another level of abstraction, and grasp them as "being," or "sub- 
stance," or "living"; but in the case of "person," or "love" or 
"justice" I can discover necessary truths about them in their own 
specific character. 

Again, this does not mean that I can define them. The proposi- 
tions mentioned above are not "analytical" in Kant's or Ayer's 
view: that is, it is not the case that the predicate is already con- 
tained in the content of the subject. These propositions are revela- 
tions: they are the unrolling of a rich scroll of meaning which I 
have actually discovered in experience. Von Hildebrand points 

220 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

out that the insight into the necessary reference of "moral values" 
to "persons" is really an insight. It is not part of the definition of 
moral value that it can exist only in persons. The fact that I 
psychologically encounter moral values in persons would not make 
the proposition tautologous; I discover aesthetic values in persons 
too, but they are also found in non-personal beings. My realization 
of the essential and necessary connection between moral value and 
person is a discovery of the meaningful character of a special 
dimension of being. This is an experiential discovery, since the 
meaning of "justice," "moral value" or "love" is not an arbitrary 
construction but the grasp of something really present as an intel- 
ligible unity in experience. These propositions are indubitably 
referential to a dimension of the real. But the interesting thing is 
that the reality to which they refer can yield up insights into its 
structure which are neither tautologous nor corrigible by future 

Remember here that the discussion centers on the lived en- 
counter with these realities and not on our concepts of them. When 
we speak about "moral values," "justice," "generosity," or 
"purity" we are not speaking primarily about the concepts with 
which we deal with these experiences, but about the experiences 
themselves; just as when we speak of "red" or "green" we are 
speaking of the encountered reality of colors. "Generosity" and 
"purity" are as different as "red" and "green," even though their 
intelligible structure may be more complex. As our thought brings 
this intelligible structure into focus, it is able to enumerate truths 
about it in its unity which are just as eternally and necessarily 
true as the statement "Red is not green." The latter proposition 
is not a tautologous definition or a mere decision to use words in 
a certain way, but a statement about a non-verbal facet of reahty. 
In like manner, the statement "generosity is not purity" is not a 
tautology but an insight into a non-verbal difference in experience. 
The additional factor is that "generosity," "purity," and similar 
givens are complex unities and that they are intelligible as complex. 
"Red" and "green" do not yield up meanings readily, due to their 

Thought and Experience: II 221 

extreme simplicity; "red is not green" is about as far as we can go 
in this case. But the intelligible complexity of love, moral value, 
generosity, purity, and so forth, is an extremely fruitful one: it 
allows not only the simple recognition of irreducible unitary dif- 
ferences, but the further necessary insights provided by the pro- 
gressive penetration of this unity in its complex character. 

The fact that von Hildebrand speaks of these things as "givens" 
and stresses the "objectivity" of such "essences" and the "eternal" 
character of the truth they underwrite may cause needless con- 
fusion. As we have seen, the notion of a "given" should not be 
understood in a rationalistic manner. Their intelligibility is char- 
acterized by depth; they are invitations to explore further. Nor 
does the fact that they make "necessary insight" possible mean 
that once we delve them out of experience, we can disregard 
experience thereafter and merely peer into their timeless structure 
to comprehend them further. Sometimes von Hildebrand speaks 
as if this were the case, but actually to penetrate a given "essence" 
of this sort is not to turn away from experience but towards it. 
It is not unfaithful to von Hildebrand's position to say that the 
"given" is always not-yet-given, or not-quite-given. Surely it makes 
insights possible, and surely it underwrites "eternal truths" which 
we do not have to keep re-verifying and which are not subject to 
correction. But just as these insights are originally the products of 
a close focusing upon experience, so their retention is a product 
of a continuing adhesion to experience. 

The meaning contained in the concepts of person, justice, or 
love is not an acquisition snatched out of experience and wrapped 
in mental cellophane; it is the intelligible epiphany of a certain 
mode of experience. To explore these "essences" I must continu- 
ally rejoin in thought the experiences from which their meaning 
shines forth. This meaning is not "given" in the sense that I can 
unfold its explicit content from the beginning; it is given in the 
sense that it is only with reference to it that certain insights are 
possible. For example: even though the full meaning of "love" is 
never available to me, still such truths as that love entails benevo- 

222 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

lence, or that love is a value response, or that love is not reducibile 
to an instinctual urge, are eternally vouchsafed to me even in my 
limited penetration of this experience. Even so, this does not mean 
that once I "see" these truths, I retain them as permanent intel- 
lectual property; really to "see" them, I must continually re-see 
them — I must dwell thought-fully in the experiences in which 
their truth is manifest. The "given" is not a permanently acquired 
premise from which I deduce consequences; it is a meaning 
emergent and clung to in actual experience. As experiential it 
nevertheless generates unconditional certitude. In this way it dif- 
fers from other experientially encountered meanings which do not 
warrant certitude.^ 

As has been pointed out, this view presupposes that there is 
more in experience than Ayer would acknowledge. It also implies 
that there is much more in experience than Scholastic philosophy 
is in the habit of adverting to. Too often the latter rests content 
with the "Nihil est . . ." formula and conceives experience in terms 
of it. A few words are in order here. If this formula were really 
taken Uterally, there would be nothing to distinguish Scholasticism 
from pure sense empiricism. Now and then some Scholastics 
themselves fall into the groove of speaking as if the "something 
more" in experience beyond the data given to sense are notions 
like cause, substance, necessity, and so forth. This gives a quasi- 
Kantian concept of experience which completely neglects the 
abundance of meaning which is neither sense datum nor a cate- 
gory of this sort. For one thing, the whole reahty of personal 
existence is overlooked. Willing, rejoicing, loving, hoping, respond- 
ing, admiring, envying and their objects are every bit as irreducibly 
given as are "sense phantasms." St. Thomas stresses that we have 
a direct knowledge of the soul through its activities; we know that 
it exists, even though we may know little of its "whatness." No 
doubt a notion of "soul" is a relatively late intellectual arrival, the 

5 Sometimes von Hildebrand speaks in a rather objectified manner of this 
"eidos" as imposing itself on me, as if it were an atemporal external thing, 
but this manner of speech is not integral to the doctrine. 

Thought and Experience: II 223 

product of various inferences; and yet not only the that but the 
what of willing, rejoicing, loving, and the rest, are immediate data 
of experience. 

It would be perfectly vacuous to treat these experiences as 
abstractions. We surely have abstract concepts of these things, but 
the concepts are drawn from directly experienced singular in- 
stances. No one thinks of disclaiming our immediate encounter with 
instances of red, loud, or sweet, because our concepts of them are 
abstractions. Just so, the concept of justice, generosity, or love, is 
generated by an encounter with these realities in singular instances. 
Experience contains singular instances of love, hope, or justice, 
just as it does of red, sweet, or loud. The alternative to recognizing 
this would be to treat sense data as the only directly given reality, 
and then to treat the other data as somehow "abstracted" from the 
sense data. It sometimes is wrongly inferred that this is the mean- 
ing of another Scholastic formula: the proportionate object of the 
intellect is the essence of material things. In some ways this form- 
ula is even more misleading than the first. It seems to say that only 
material things are known directly, and that all of our knowledge 
of spiritual reahty is indirect; but St. Thomas makes it quite clear 
that we know the acts of our own soul directly — and indeed, how 
else could we know them? It further seems to say that we know 
the essences of "material things" (such as, perhaps, the natures of 
stone, tree, or cow) better than the nature of a person. In one 
sense, of course, even this is true, since I can easily grasp the 
referent of these words, and I would never get mixed up if I were 
given the job of sorting out stones, trees, and cows. But beyond 
grasping their ostensive signification, I know very little about the 
essence of stone, tree, or cow. Contrariwise, I may have little 
superficial ostensive knowledge of love, justice, or a person, and 
I may have to win through to such knowledge quite laboriously; 
and yet what I can know of these realities far exceeds in depth 
what I can know about a stone, tree, or cow. 

It is surely true that we ought not to take the Scholastic formula 
to mean that we know material things better than persons. It is. 

224 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

unfortunately, just as surely true that its wording facilitates this 
misinterpretation. Some of the difficulty would be avoided if we 
simply understood the formula to mean that the proportionate 
object of our thought is being as it is revealed through the senses. 
This is distinctly less exceptionable, though still unsatisfying. Ac- 
tually the genuine residue of meaning in the formula seems to be 
little more than the insistence that my incarnate situation is the 
vehicle of my knowing and that it colors and conditions all my 
knowing. This is a fair enough statement, but it could be put in a 
manner less open to misinterpretation. It is not true to say that all 
our knowledge of spiritual reahty is indirect, as the formula could 
be taken to imply. Nothing is closer to us than our interpersonal 
existence and this is a spiritual mode of existence. Of course, if 
one wants to emphasize that it is the spiritual mode of existence 
of an incarnate being, that is unobjectionable; we have no direct 
awareness of the mode of existence proper to disincarnate spirits. 
Yet then the statement that we know properly and proportionately 
the "essences of material things" widens to mean that we know 
persons best — which is rather far from its original implication. 
We now stipulate that a "person" is the essence of a material thing: 
a highly unilluminating manner of speaking. 

The last interpretation is suggested by Thomistic philosophers 
who wish to preserve the experiential orientation of Thomism and 
yet bring it into alignment with the clear truth of experience. Thus 
de Finance proposes that what our intellect is primarily ordered to 
is not just the "essence of material things," but other persons.'^ 
It would seem just as legitimate a procedure to stop using the 
formula. Once we use it, we are stuck with it. For once having 
employed the formula we are impelled to try to squeeze all experi- 
ential data into this mold. The attitude inherent in it is what led 
Aristotle to try to understand man in terms of a "material thing," 
albeit a material thing of a special kind. It is a thankless task to 
try to understand how we can rightly represent a person, beauty, 

6 Joseph de Finance, S.J., "Being and Subjectivity," trans, by W. Norris 
Clarke, S.J., Cross Currents, VI 163-178; see p. 169. 

Thought and Experience: II 225 

justice, number, generosity, V-1, law, charm, history, ambition, 
and a milHon other realities as the "essence of a material thing." 
No doubt the one who holds this formula goes on to acknowledge 
that we can have an inadequate grasp of all being; but this 
acknowledgment is considerably quahfied when we realize that he 
ordinarily means by this simply that we can grasp reality according 
to the very general principles made possible by the concept of 
being. The real point is, however, that we can have an immediate 
experiential contact with realities which are not sense data and not 
usefully understood from the side of sense data. 

There is very little doubt that Thomistic philosophy implicitly 
recognizes this truth, but its habitual terminological dependence 
on a delineation of experience as "phantasms" on the one hand 
and generalized intellectual concepts on the other impairs this 
recognition. Historically there is no doubt that it has not exploited 
this recognition. If a constricting vocabulary or formulas with very 
limited usefulness stand in the way of a philosophical appreciation 
of experience, it would seem the course of wisdom to relinquish 
them and move on. 




We have already met the fairly standard definition of truth as 
the conformity between mind and reality. In this relationship of 
conformity, it is natural to think of reahty as having the initiative. 
This is what the conception of "evidence" likewise suggests: reahty 
imposes itself upon me, and in the presence of the evidence, I 
submit. In submitting, I confirm to what-is, and thus my judgment 
may be denominated true. There is not the shghtest question that 
this way of conceiving things has a permanent vahdity, but the 
manner in which we spontaneously express it may be both highly 
questionable and highly misleading. Imphed in it is what might be 
called a "billboard" theory of evidence. It is as if the mind stands 
off and reads evidence which is posted before it, and then the 
assent is inevitably forthcoming. The problem of error then be- 
comes that of comprehending how anyone could fail to read evi- 
dence posted plainly on the billboard of reahty. 

There can be little doubt that there is operative in this concep- 
tion of things another instance of our succumbing to the intellec- 
tual temptation which Bergson has called irrevocably to the atten- 
tion of philosophers — the temptation of substituting a mental 
scheme or image for the reality which we are trying to compre- 
hend. Our thought has an habitual reliance on the imagination, 
and the imagination is primarily a faculty of spatial representation. 
If we try to deal by means of spatial imagery with a reahty which 
is essentially non-spatial, difficulty is bound to arise. That appears 
to be what happens in the case of the familiar conception of the 

Existential Truth 227 

relation between mind and evidence as outlined above. What is 
experientially given is some kind of distinction between thought 
and being, or thought's experience of itself as not in toto origina- 
tive. As soon as we express this distinction, however, we fall into 
the conception of it as an externalization of thought and being. 
As soon as we think any duahty, we represent it, and involved in 
this representation is the imagination. Now the only way in which 
the imagination can represent things as dual is to represent them 
as spatially outside one another. For a faculty of spatial represen- 
tation, it is impossible that there be two things unless these two 
tilings are external one to the other. The duality of thought and 
being is then conceived as a quasi-spatial juxtaposition of one to 
the other. 

AU our language about mind and evidence tends subtly to rein- 
force this representation. We speak about the evidence "imposing" 
itself on us, conjuring up an obviously spatial image. Even the 
seemingly inevitable tendency to speak of "knowing" analogously 
to "seeing" leads to the same result. For in literal seeing, the seer 
is spatially other than what he sees: I am here and the seen object 
is there, outside me. Then if we "see" evidence (and who can 
help talking this way?) we spontaneously picture the relation 
between knower and evidence in a quasi-spatial manner: here is 
the mind, and there is the evidence. Again, we say that knowing is 
a confrontation of the mind with evidence. But "confronting" is 
also a spatial relation. Is it possible to escape this spatial way of 
speaking? If not, what then? Are we enjoined from speaking about 
the reality of knowledge altogether? No, but we are put under the 
necessity of being constantly aware of the limitations of our own 
ways of speaking. We will, no doubt, go right on using these 
involuntary images, but we will be aware of their hidden presence 
and try to surmount them. In fact, the very ability to recognize the 
incongruity between image and reality is in its own way a tran- 
scending of the image. We are in a much better position after we 
have realized that knowing cannot literally be likened to seeing 
and that therefore the problem of knowledge cannot literally be 
either posed or answered in terms of seeing than we would be if 

22§ The Philosophy of Knowledge 

we had not adverted to this. And we are better off even though we 
may go right on using the image. Philosophical reflection often 
amounts to this going beyond a distorting imagery. What we find 
when we thus go beyond may be relatively less communicable 
than what preceded it, but it is nearer to the adequation of thought 
with reality. 

This brief excursus on the nature of evidence should be useful 
as a preliminary to the present chapter, for it brings out what 
might be called the "unstable" structure of evidence. Paradoxically, 
it might be said that the status of evidence is not entirely evident. 
Modern existential thought can be interpreted as an attempt to 
exploit this realization in one important direction. It begins on 
grounds not unhke those explained above. For the juxtaposition of 
mind and evidence is conceived, in one familiar form, as the juxta- 
position of subject and object. Knowledge, it is said, consists in a 
judgment which a subject makes about an object. Almost immedi- 
ately (through this spatializing tendency) there arises in our mind 
the conception of a subject standing off and characterizing an 
object which is juxtaposed to his subjectivity and his thought. The 
impUcation in this (which often passes unnoticed, but which is all 
the more influential for being unnoticed) is that subjectivity is 
irrelevant to truth. If the object is juxtaposed to my thought, if the 
evidence is posted out there, then the only function of the subject 
is to be a pure viewer of this object. A pure viewer, however, is 
One in whom all the impediments to viewing have been removed 
and whose gaze is turned peUucidly to what he views. But the 
impediments to viewing are not from the side of the object, which 
simply offers itself to view. They are from the side of my subjec- 
tivity. Perfect knowledge would, then, consist in the reduction of 
the subject to a cipher: a perfectly transparent eye opening on a 
world of objective evidence. 

Something Hke this is what Edmund Husserl, the founder of 
phenomenology, declared to be the ideal of knowledge. If aware- 
ness is other than its object, then pure awareness is purely other 
than its object; and phenomenology aimed at the delineation of 
these "essences" or evidential structures which offered themselves 

Existential Truth 229 

to the view of a subject which conscientiously reduced his own 
contribution to nullity and converted himself into a pure viewer, 
or what Husserl called a "transcendental subject."^ 

Actually, Husserl can be regarded as simply extrapolating and 
making explicit an attitude which is exceedingly common. Everyone 
is familiar with the shibboleth that if we want to get at truth, we 
must be "objective" in our inquiry; we must not let personal 
prejudice, passion, interest, or emotion sway our judgment, but 
see things as they really are. Apparently, then, the knower who 
sees things as they really are is the one who eliminates from his 
scrutiny every intruding element of subjectivity which could mar 
and distort his vision. On this basis, the knower who reaches 
"objectivity" is the characterless cipher-subject. It should not pass 
unnoticed how clearly this rather strange conclusion is linked to 
the conception of knowing as viewing. If knowledge cannot be 
adequately seen in terms of this analogy, then there is from the 
start something wrong with the reasoning which poses the question 
in terms of it. 

There is no denying that this conception of things has a genuine 
basis in our knowledge. We do experience knowing as an uncondi- 
tional desire to explain what is. I do not want to be trapped by 
wishful thinking; I want to know reality just as it is in itself, 
regardless of my own wishes. Furthermore, I recognize this desire 
as one of the things that is best and noblest in me, this desire to 
say "yea" come what may. Even if the truth hurts, even if it 
crushes me, I want to know it. I experience my judgment as this 
aspiration to leave its object untouched, to abdicate completely 
before what is affirmed. Unless my knowledge reaches the real 
exactly as it is in itself, unless the act of judging makes no differ- 
ence whatsoever to what is judged, then it is not knowledge at all. 
Cognitively, I am this aspiration towards pure, transcendental 
subjectivity, this abnegation in the face of the evidence. There is 

1 See Edmund Husserl, Ideas, p. 14. It is interesting to observe that ulti- 
mately Husserl's subject manages to be not such a cipher after ail, since it 
emerges as the constituter of the objective panorama which, as pure knower, 
it beholds. 

230 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

not the slightest doubt of this. And yet. . . . And yet the question 
of truth also contains the question of the origin of evidence. I 
want to submit to what is there. But how comes it that there is 
anything there? Evidence is the way reality is present to my 
thought. But why is reality present in the way in which it is? 
Cognitively, my judgment is an assent to the given. But why is 
there anything given? This is a rather crucial sort of question, and 
it is the sort of question which the existentiaUst will ask. Even if 
I were to agree that my cognitional ideal would be to convert 
myself into a transcendental subject for whom there was a pure 
vision of reality as evidentially present, there would stiU remain 
the question of what subject carries out this conversion. As an 
existing human being, I may be a pursuit of the ideal of pure 
cognitional meaning, but I am not the achievement of it. The tran- 
scendental subject remains for me an ideal which propels my re- 
flection; but my reflection is the work of an existing subject.- 

Furthermore, this transcendental viewing would have to be 
conceived of as purely passive: a pure abnegation before what-is. 
The trouble is that for a purely passive consciousness there seems 
no reason to think that there would be anything present at aU. 
The only reason that there is anything present to human con- 
sciousness is that, from another standpoint, I am not a pure 
viewer, but an acting, existing being. My reality as existent is the 
source for the given which is there for me as knower. First I exist, 
then I know. AU cognitional consciousness, then, occurs against a 
pre-cognitional or extra-cognitional background. Therefore, even 
if, as knower, I want to affirm objective evidence (the way reality 
is present) my mode of existing has a hand in determining the 
way reality is present. Subjectivity cannot be considered irrelevant 
to truth, for subjectivity is not irrelevant to evidence. Thus, the 
central existentialist contention may be summed up in this way: 

^ It would seem that the transcendental subject must be considered as 
either: 1) Actually constitutive, and therefore supremely active, as a sort 
of absolute self. 2) Purely formal, a mere name for the structure of certain 
aspects present to consciousness, as vi^ith Kant, and perhaps, too, Husserl. 
3) Purely ideal, the ultimate term of an ideally realized reflection. 

Existential Truth 231 

man's ultimate verdict on reality is a function of his manner of 
existing as a human being, and hence of his subjectivity and 

This thesis, while radical enough, is not as foreign to traditional 
thought as might at first appear. The Thomist, for one, has always 
held that the known is in the knower according to the manner of 
the knower, and he might incorporate the existentialist thesis into 
this framework. It has always been recognized that knowing is a 
total act, but the insight usually does not go much beyond recog- 
nizing the sensory-intellectual composition of knowledge. The exis- 
tentialist may be taken to be extending the insight to mean that the 
knower's whole mode of existing is contributory to the way in 
which reality is present to him. Traditional philosophy comes 
closest to this view in its notion of "connatural knowledge," 
knowledge which involves an afiinity of the knower to the thing 
known: thus, the good man's knowledge of what is right may 
proceed simply from his sensitivity to moral value, and yet be as 
dependable in its own way as the ethician's theoretical and con- 
ceptual evaluations. From yet another standpoint, the existentialist 
may be taken as treating with ultimate seriousness the metaphysical 
maxim that "agere sequitur esse," ("as a being is, so it acts"); 
for what he stresses is that "as a being is, so it knows." Knowl- 
edge, as the act of an existing subject cannot occur in abstraction 
from the existence of that subject.^ 


We may first consider this insight in the presentation of it given 
by Soren Kierkegaard, in whom the modern existentialist temper 
first appears.^ Kierkegaard's position is probably best orchestrated 
around the central theme of what it means to be an "existing 

3 A remark of Pierre Rousselot, The Intellectualism of Saint Thomas, p. 
33, is very much to the point here: "So little is knowledge indivisible that 
it varies necessarily with the nature of the thinking subject." 

* "Existentialism," it may be noted, is a new name for a fairly old philo- 
sophical attitude, going back to Pascal, St. Augustine, and, in many ways, 
to Socrates and Plato. 

232 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

reason." The development of this theme by Kierkegaard resulted 
from his violent reaction to the rationalism of Hegel.^ Hegel had 
conceived of reality as through and through rational: logic was the 
static form of rationality, and history its dynamic unfolding. 

Time and history are, then, the outward manifestations of a 
rationality in which human thought also participates. The sign of 
rationahty is system, since to understand is to see things as 
articulated wholes. Then, man's reason progresses towards explicit 
understanding in so far as it progresses towards a comprehensive 
conceptual system. Kierkegaard seems to have felt that Hegel re- 
garded this conceptual adequacy as self -enforcing: that is, given 
the rationality of a system of concepts, the assent to its truth would 
be automatically forthcoming. Human reason was simply a phase 
or moment in the coming-to-explicit-rationaUty of the Absolute 
Idea and hence for man to form adequate concepts was the same 
thing as afl&rming their application to reaUty. That the Absolute 
exists and has entered into history were two truths which Hegel 
thought could be validated simply by exhibiting the fact that an 
adequately rational system incorporated them. 

Against this optimism, Kierkegaard championed the view that 
conceptual adequacy would never be enough to enforce assent in 
man. Man is not just reason, he is existing reason.^ His existence 
inserts a wedge between his thought and the Idea, His existence 
estranges him from reason; at least, it means he is not just reason. 
His existing through time is not just a stretching out of a timeless 
abstraction, it is an irreducibly unique dimension. One idea may 
"necessarily" imply another; two premises may "necessarily" imply 
a conclusion; but no ideas and no premises necessarily imply man's 
automatic assent. There is a gap between existence and reason. 
Reason cannot close this gap because reason is always the reason 

5 At least we may speak of the rationalism of Kierkegaard's Hegel, a 
version of the master which many Hegelians would not recognize. 

6 On this, see A Kierkegaard Anthology, edit, by Robert Bretall (Prince- 
ton: Princeton University Press), 1947, pp. 201-207. This passage is from 
Concluding Unscientific Postscript. All references to Kierkegaard will be 
to this convenient edition. 

Existential Truth 233 

of an existing being. Man is not a syllogism, nor a moment in a 
self-articulating system. There can be a system of abstractions, but 
there is no system of existence. Man exists, and his existence 
places him in an extra-conceptual order where the validities of 
concepts are not decisive. Only abstractions are airtight, but ab- 
stractions do not apply to existence and to the thought which 
thinks existence. As an existent I am not the embodiment of an 
abstraction or of a reasoning process. Therefore, when I try to 
think existence, no conceptual process can be automatically vali- 
dating for me. 

Kierkegaard considered Socrates to be an exemplary representa- 
tive of this insight, and the doctrine of reminiscence to be his 
expression of it.^ For, stripped of its mythical accoutrements, what 
the doctrine of reminiscence signifies is that man both does and 
does not belong to the truth. He is existing reason. As reason, he 
participates in the truth; as existing, he is separated from the truth. 
If he were totally estranged from the truth, if he were in no sense 
already attached to it, he would not even be able to seek it; if he 
were totally coincident with it, he would have no need to seek it. 
Furthermore, when he does seek it, when he does strive to 
assimilate into his existence the intelligibility which he "remem- 
bers," he never succeeds in achieving a perfect coincidence with 
that intelligibility. His philosophical inquiry cannot be conceived 
as a search for self-validating arguments. We may, building upon 
Kierkegaard, illustrate this by means of Socrates' arguments for 
the immortality of the soul, as given in the Phaedo. Not even to 
Socrates do these arguments have the character of self-enforcing 
processes; there is always something left over, some gap between 
evidence and assent. But Socrates fills in this gap from the side of 
his own existence. He does not feel the "objective uncertainty" as 
a factor against the arguments. It is almost as if it were part of 
the evidence, an intimation of the abyss of existence which is the 
source for our hope of immortality. These arguments for the 

'^ Ibid., pp. 155-157. This passage is from Philosophical Fragments. Cf. 
also pp. 210-217 {Concluding Unscientific Postscript) . 

234 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

immortality of the soul are not processes which could be given to 
an abstract thinker, for the evidence upon which they rest is a 
function of the exigence or demand of the existing consciousness 
for whom they arise. Socrates' own hopeful confidence has a hand 
in constituting the evidence upon the basis of which he is able to 
say "yea" to these arguments. 

Actually there is no argument for immortality which could be 
constructed in such a way that the subjectivity of the arguer would 
not be implicated. For this argument is spoken directly to the 
existing subject. His assent to the "immortality of the soul" is not 
detachable from the afl&rmation "Yea, / will live forever." The 
argument for immortality is a translation into cognitional terms of 
the experience of oneself as spirit. A man cannot afl&rm himself as 
spirit abstractly, but only as a free, singular subject. What Socrates 
attempts to do in these arguments is to bring before his eyes the 
rationale of his whole life, the rationale of his existence. Only for 
Socrates, or for one who lives as Socrates, do these proofs contain 
"evidence." Only because, as existent, his Ufe is pervaded by a 
transcendent appeal, can he give cognitive expression to the evi- 
dence for immortality. One who lived his life otherwise would have 
no such "evidence" available to him. A man at Kierkegaard's so- 
called "aesthetic" stage of existence, whose life was dissipated into 
a series of transitory sensations, would not be able to see the 
evidence requisite for these arguments. For the element of depth 
which characterized Socrates' existence is a component of the 
evidence which was there for his knowledge. It is implicated in 
the "given" which reflection discovers. It therefore cuts across the 
simplistic dichotomy between subject and object in knowledge. 
This evidence may be an unqualified revelation of reality, but it is 
a revelation which is only there for an existing subject and not for 
a neutral observer. 

Kierkegaard himself may be accused of slighting the truly cog- 
nitional character of this kind of revelation and of treating it too 
much hke "faith" in the stricter sense. We will call it "existential 

Existential Truth 235 

truth," truth m which my own existence is involved,^ Kierkegaard's 
definition is that "truth is an objective uncertainty held fast in an 
appropriation-process of the most passionate inwardness."^ Truth 
is the objective, conceptual inadequacy taken up and sustained by 
the lived yea of my existence. It must be emphasized that this con- 
dition is not a defect of my knowledge which we somehow ought 
to aim to eliminate — as if it reaUy would be better if this truth 
could be estabhshed in a more abstract way, and we should make 
a noble effort to manage it. The point is that this truth is spoken 
to existence and that there just is no way to establish it or even to 
express it abstractly. 

The role of subjectivity is not an unfortunate factual state of 
affairs. It is essential. A certain kind of intelUgibility is only avail- 
able through subjectivity. To eliminate subjectivity would be to 
eliminate the intelligibility. We will soon provide more examples, 
but for the present we may adduce the meaning of spirit as one 
category of freedom and subjectivity, only meaningful in so far as 
it incorporates these. 

Secondly, it should be quite clear that what Kierkegaard has in 
mind is applicable to a certain sort of truth only. Statements Uke 
"200,000 radios are sold in the U. S. every three weeks," "Colum- 
bus discovered America in 1492," "It is raining out," "Your 
shoelace is untied," surely do not have the same status. Kierke- 
gaard naturally would make a distinction between this sort of 
merely factual truth and philosophical truth. Philosophical truth is 
not simply a characterization of some item within my experience, 
but a characterization of the meaning and value of my experience 
itself: it is the affirmation of the transcendent dimension of my 
existence, and as such it can only be made by the existence which 
experiences itself as thus transcendent. 

Thirdly, it may strike us that the formula "Truth is subjectivity" 

8 Although he himself calls it "essential truth," a bit of nomenclature 
puzzling to modern ears. 

^ Op. cit., p. 214. {Concluding Unscientific Postscript). 

236 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

could be carried still further. If certain truths emerge by being 
incorporated into my existence, then it may not be amiss to say 
I am these truths. We may then distinguish in the fashion of 
Gabriel Marcel between truths which I have and truths which I 
am. It is to Marcel that we will next turn for a further exphcation 
of the notion of existential truth. 


Marcel's thought does not in any sense derive from Kierke- 
gaard's, and therefore any similarities between them should not 
be put down to a genealogical relation; if anything, they serve to 
indicate that there is something authentic in the thought of each. 
Marcel's views are most profitably explored from the standpoint 
of his already classical distinction between a "problem" and a 
"mystery," a distinction peculiarly well suited to epistemological 
presentation. ^° 

The differences between problem and mystery are manifold, but 
all have their root in Marcel's view of the type of datum to which 
each question is directed. A problem is an inquiry which is initiated 
in respect to an "object," in Marcel's semi-technical use of that 
term. Etymologically, an ob-ject is something which is thrown in 
front of me, something which I encounter as external to me and 
over against me. In an objective situation, I am here and the 
object is there, complete and open for inspection. For the reason 
that I meet the object as juxtaposed to myself and as not involving 

!<* Grateful acknowledgment is made to Fordham University Press for 
permission to reprint the following several pages which comprise part of 
Chapter III of the author's The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel (New York: 
Fordham University Press), 1962. For Marcel's scattered treatment of this 
subject, see Being and Having, trans, by Katherine Farrer (Boston: Beacon 
Press), 1951, p. lOOss., 117ss., 126ss.; The Mystery of Being, vol. I, p. 
204ss.; and the entire text of the essay "On the Ontological Mystery," pub- 
lished in The Philosophy of Existentialism (New York: Citadel Press), 

Existential Truth 237 

myself, I can envelop it in a clear and distinct idea which deline- 
ates its limits. With this clarity comes perfect transmittability, and 
with the transmittability the object begins to lead that public and 
independent life which is the privilege of the world of the "prob- 
lematic." Marcel does not fail to notice the peculiar coincidence 
that the Greek roots of the word "problem" are perfectly cor- 
respondent to the Latin roots of "object": a pro-blema is some- 
thing which is thrown in my path, something which is met along 
the way. 

A problem, then, is an inquiry which is set on foot in respect 
to an object which the self apprehends in an exterior way. Such 
would be a problem in algebra, or the problem a mechanic faces 
in fixing an automobile. The engine and the man are two quite 
isolable entities; the engine is something complete and entire out- 
side of him, which he may literally inspect from all sides. Not 
every object, naturally, presents a spatial externality of this sort, 
but the problematic datum is always regarded as juxtaposed, con- 
verted, as it were, into a possessed thing. Thus, the attempt to 
solve the equation 2x- — 3x = 2 would be a problematic inquiry 
even though the elements are essentially mental rather than spatial. 
The point is that the data as presented do not include myself; in 
conceiving the numbers, I do not conceive myself: I retreat from 
them and regard them intently as posed in front of me. The area 
of the problematic covers a wide range of human knowledge. The 
mechanic and the mathematician may stand, perhaps, as types of 
the domination of nature which the problematic knowledge of 
science makes possible. Science embodies the ultimate achievement 
of problematic knowledge. From the theorists of cybernetics to the 
researcher pursuing the links between cigarette-smoking and can- 
cer, science is uniformly the application of the mind to an object 
in Marcel's strict sense of this word. But it is not only science 
which fulfills the notion of a problem. A bored student doing a 
crossword puzzle in class, a reader frowning over a "whodunit," a 
clerk consulting an orderly ofiice file, all are engaged m solving 

238 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

problems. In each case, the data of the questions are such that I 
can effectively divorce myself from them and concentrate upon 
them as manipulable external objects. 

A mystery, on the other hand, is a question in which what is 
given cannot be regarded as detached from the self. There are 
data which in their very nature cannot be set over against myself, 
for the reason that as data they involve myself. If I ask "What is 
being?" can I regard being as an object which is thrown across 
my path? No, for being, as datum, includes me; in order to con- 
ceive being as a datum, I must conceive it as including me. 1 
cannot get outside of being in order to ask questions about it in 
a purely external way. The attempt to isolate what is before me 
from what is in me breaks down completely here. Being, then, is 
not a problem at all, but a mystery. If I decide to treat it as a 
problem, to stand on all fours with it and approach it as just one 
more manipulatable object, I no longer have hold of my original 
question. A mystery is a question in which I am caught up. In the 
area of the problematic, the status of the questioner is completely 
prescinded from, and only the object is called into question. But if 
I ask "What is being?" the question recoils upon my own status as 
a questioner. Who am I who question being? Am 17 At this point 
the "problem" of being impinges upon the intrinsic conditions of 
its own possibility and becomes the mystery of being. For the 
condition of a problematic research is that the subject wear the 
regaha of unquestionability, and it is only this privilege which 
quahfies him to render the object totally intelligible. But to ques- 
tion being is to question myself as questioner. That is, this "being" 
at which I would like to direct questions is not an object given to 
a non-obscure subject which may direct all its uncertainty outward; 
for here, in questioning the object I call myself into question. 

Being is not an object I can inspect from aU sides. If I were to 
have a clear and distinct notion of being, I would be completely 
an object for myself (since being envelops me, and in order to 
objectify being I would have to objectify myself). But I cannot 
objectify myself; I cannot observe myself from the outside. The 

Existential Truth 239 

question "What am I?" is another example of a mystery. I do not 
even know for sure what the question means — and here we can 
say that as a problem it encroaches upon its supposed data. In the 
case of a true problem, the elements are clearly given; so that I 
may use them to proceed to the unknown. In a problematic situa- 
tion there are always traceable analogies of the splendidly lucid 
conditions of geometry, "given" and "to find." For instance, in a 
crossword puzzle: given, the dictionary meaning of valley; to find, 
a four-letter word which equivalently conveys it. Or, in the 
mechanical problem: given, the known functions of the various 
parts of the engine; to find, which has broken down. But in a 
mystery the given itself is not clear and distmct. Thus, the "I" 
which causes me to tremble when I call it into question contains 
no element exempt from the mystery which wraps the whole; there 
is in it no small segment framed within defined limits and exhaus- 
tively known, to serve as an opening wedge from which to launch 
an encircling ratiocination. 

Therefore not every reality can be the target of a purely prob- 
lematic inquiry. Wherever I deal with something which encom- 
passes the self, I may never hope to keep contact with its authentic 
nature if I treat it as if it does not involve the self. The supreme 
example of this, of course, is the mystery of being. I am a mystery 
to myself in so far as I am; all things are mysterious in so far as 
they are. Only what is not being — or what is not encountered as 
being — is not mysterious. The only thought which does not run 
full tilt into mystery is deontologized thought, thought which, by 
immunizing itself against the opacity at its own center, succeeds 
in conferring the same kind of immunity upon its object. This 
operation is quite possible, even desirable, in vast areas of human 

But there are certain realities which in the nature of things are 
not amenable to this sealing-off process; because what they are 
involves the self in all its singularity, I cannot prescind from that 
singularity when I conceive them. We have seen that the question 
of being and the question of the self are examples of this, but we 

240 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

may mention others. My body in so far as it is mine cannot be 
adequately rendered in problematic categories; the body which the 
physiologist studies is an objective structure available for an ob- 
server, but the body as mine simply is not accessible in this man- 
ner. In fact, my situation as a whole is non-objectifiable and 
refuses to be reduced to a problem. I cannot pass judgment on 
the world as if I am a spectator; every judgment on the world as 
a whole is passed on my world since I qualify it through my 
participation. Again, suffering and evil only are what they are 
inasmuch as they involve me; looked at from the outside, evil 
seems the mere malfunctioning of a mechanism — that is to say, it 
is not seen as evil at all. So too with love and with knowledge. 
We will see at greater length in the next chapter that the co- 
presence of love cannot be regarded as the juxtaposition of two 
"objects." In effect, we have already seen in the refutation of 
scepticism that knowledge is a mystery: if I ask "what is knowl- 
edge?" I can in no sense get outside my own knowing in order to 
describe it in an exterior way. The act through which I would like 
to objectify knowledge in order to study it is already an act of 
knowledge. So it is, apparently, with most truly philosophical 
questions. They bear on non-objectifiable data, realities which it is 
forever impossible to externalize. Freedom, time, space, sensation 
all seem to fall under this classification. 

The second characteristic of a problem derives immediately 
from the first. A problem admits of a solution. By use of the 
proper techniques, a "period" can be put to our inquiries. With 
diligence (expended at the proper hourly compensation) the 
mechanic wiU eventually put his finger on the defective part of 
the engine and declare confidently: "There is your trouble." In 
the algebraic problem, the inquirer may, by suitable manipulations, 
reach the ready conclusion that x = 2. At that point, the problem 
is finished, over and done with. Final results have been attained 
and further thought is unnecessary. The possibility of a solution 
is directly linked to the objectified nature of the datum; because 
the datum is isolable, it is subject to being circumscribed and 
dissected by one who has the necessary skill. Its solvabihty is not 

Existential Truth 241 

what makes it a problem; but because it is a problem, it is solvable. 
And because it is a problem, the notion of a "result" applies to it 
in the strictest sense. The notion of a "technique" is strictly cor- 
relative to this kind of definitive result, and that is why the 
problematic can provide the arena for the "expert," the man who 
"knows-how," who has mastery of a style of techniques fitted to 
wrest results from objects which he has at his mental disposal. 

But the notion of a "result" cannot be applied in this sense to 
the region of mystery. Here it is not possible to reach the point 
where I can say "That is done with," the point at which further 
thought is unnecessary. There is no Q.E.D. in a mystery. What is 
being? What is freedom? What is the self? These questions cease- 
lessly renew themselves. They are not susceptible of a solution in 
a sense univocal with that of a problem. On the contrary, there is 
the prevailing impression of an inexhaustible profundity, of depths 
which no amount of thought can ever fathom. The best that we 
can do is to locate ourselves within the mystery, but this can 
hardly be said to constitute a solution. 

The third characteristic of a problem is based upon the fact that 
an object is conceived of as indifferent to me; it is simply there 
"for anyone." Because this is so, it follows that the self as con- 
scious of an object is just anyone — an anonymous impersonal 
mind for which any other mind might just as well be substituted. 
The object is what is thrown in front of a purely logico-sensory 
subject. As a logico-sensory subject I am perfectly "interchange- 
able" with anyone else: I share the neutrality of the object itself. 
But since the mystery involves my singular self, then I cannot 
prescind from that self in pursuing it. The datum about which I 
raise the question includes my singularity, and hence the process 
by which I explore the datum includes my singularity. 


Now the repercussions of Marcel's distinction are manifold, but 
its significance for epistemology can be appreciated by concen- 
trating on its consequences for the notion of "evidence." We have 

242 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

seen that as this notion is usually presented it presumes some kind 
of dichotomy between subject and object. If, however, there is a 
kind of evidence which transcends this dichotomy, which is in 
fact only available in so far as this dichotomy is transcended, the 
consequences are drastic indeed. No longer can we visuahze the 
knower as an autonomous subject "in the face of" or merely 
evaluating evidence. The knower of mystery is not a spectator 
but a participator: some evidence is only available to the partici- 
pant and not to the neutral observer. As existing subject, I am 
essentially being-by-participation. I am founded by this participa- 
tion, and I have no priority to the participation in terms of 
which I can require it to present its credentials. The participation 
is the foundation for my subjectivity; my knowledge is posterior 
to participation. Therefore, there is no way in which my knowl- 
edge can evaluate the participation in a purely exterior way, since 
it is not available for inspection in this way. If evidence is the 
ground of cognition, still participation is the ground of evidence. 

In the region of mystery what my thought does is to try to 
recover and express a participation which is there prior to 
thought. The thought which attempts this expression must do so 
by returning to the participation itself. This means that we are 
not dealing with a "proof" in the ordinary connotation of that 
word. It means that the sort of "proof" which is typical in the 
area of problem cannot be transferred to the region of mystery 
and so cannot be regarded as the norm for all reasoning. In a 
problem we can demonstrate; in a mystery we can only "mon- 
strate." A typical example of this has already been cited in the 
case of Socrates' arguments for the immortality of the soul. To 
"prove" the immortality of the soul does not consist in demon- 
strating that a certain property belongs to one class of "object" — 
it consists in shovv^ing or "monstrating" that a certain mode of 
existing opens beyond the phenomenal. That this is true can only 
be comprehended by a knower who inhabits this mode of existing. 

An even more obvious example is the question of the existence 
of God. The traditional attempts to prove the existence of God 

Existential Truth 243 

do not sufficiently distinguish proofs in this area from proofs in 
the area of problem. A realm of inquiry in which despair is pos- 
sible is a realm in which the last word does not belong to argu- 
mentation. I cannot raise questions about the existence of God 
as if God were an "object," for He is supremely non-objectifiable. 
He is not out there, external to me, juxtaposed to my existence. 
If my thought poses the question of God as if God were another 
"something" about whose existence my curiosity has been 
aroused, it has already guaranteed its own futility. Nor can I raise 
this question as a mere spectator or an anonymous subject. It is 
not a matter of mere curiosity for me whether God exists or not. 
It is a matter of concern. If it isn't, then obviously I am not even 
raising the question at all. I cannot engage in theodicy in the 
mood of the geometer or grammarian, for then I am not engaging 
in theodicy at all. The question of the existence of God is raised 
only in function of an exigence which is felt by the subject,^'^ 
No one who does not feel this exigence can be a metaphysician. 
What about the "proof" for the existence of God? What the 
proof does is to raise to the level of self-recognition an intelligi- 
bility which is already contained in the exigence. For the exi- 
gence is a form of participation. Man's longing for God is not 
epistemologically irrelevant, but uniquely and irreducibly eviden- 
tial. Nor should we only visuahze this as the stipulation that the 
evidence is "there" independent of this exigence, but that we 
require the exigence in order to see it. This puts the exigence 
on the side of a prerequisite "subjective disposition," while pre- 
serving the "objective" evidence intact — thus reintroducing the 
schema of a dichotomy between subject and object which is the 
basic difficulty. The point is rather that the exigence is in no 
sense external to the evidence. The evidence for the existence of 
God is there only for an apprehending self and the mode of exist- 
ing of this self is a component of this evidence. 

" On the ontological exigence, see Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of 
Being, vol. II, trans, by Rene Hague, pp. 33-51; and on the question of a 
"proof" for the existence of God, see Being and Having, pp. 121, 124-125. 

244 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

Sometimes the impression is given that we argue syllogistically 
to the existence of God; but obviously the notion of being cannot 
function in the same way in a syllogism as can a limited concept: 
Thomistically stated, it is a transcendental idea (it includes 
everything, and every difference between every thing) and hence 
spans the distinction between subject and predicate, and is pres- 
ent in all terms of the syllogism. But not only that, the genuine 
notion of being also spans the dichotomy between subject and 
object. Hence its meaning is not available in a purely objectified 
way. If I want to know what I mean by being, I cannot prescind 
from my own subjectivity, for then I have a pseudo-notion, "be- 
ing as object." On the basis of this pseudo-notion, no argument 
for the existence of God is possible. Only a genuine notion of 
being will provide the approach to this proof. And such a gen- 
uine notion must include my own existence. 

It would be perfectly possible for me to fulfil all the require- 
ments of a phenomenal community of knowing subjects without 
encountering the evidence for an authentic notion of being. As a 
member of such a community, I require merely orderly sense 
perception and the apparatus of logical thought; I could not claim 
"rationality" in the ordinary sense without this endowment. But log- 
ical thought as such does not provide me with the genuine notion 
of being. Logical thought is the mode by which a subject charac- 
terizes an object. But being is not an object. That is why it is easy 
enough for a knower who is "rational" in the ordinary sense to 
fail to give meaning to the arguments for or assertions of God's 
existence. Ordinary "rationality" is a social property. It does not 
of itself reveal to us the trans-temporal abyss contained in the 
notion of being. Rather the opposite. One who is accustomed to 
have his attention turned in the direction of the phenomenal 
serviceabiUty of thought will treat as simply vacuous any thought 
which cannot justify itself in these terms. The real then becomes 
identified with the publicly verifiable. This is what happens in 
the case of the logical positivists, for whom any question of a 
"truth" which surpasses the phenomenal and verifiable is simply 

Existential Truth 245 

meaningless. The existence of God (among other things) surely 
cannot be verified in this manner, and hence the assertion of 
God's existence becomes meaningless. 

Now how do we rise to the affirmation that there is such a 
thing as truth beyond the verifiable? It must be by contact with 
the potentially infinite intelligibility contained in the notion of 
being. This intelligibihty, however, is available only as including 
me in my unique singularity. A notion of being which leaves out 
subjectivity will, as de Finance has pointed out,^^ deteriorate into 
a pure Kantian form, an empty concept, which could never serve 
as a point of departure for an argument for God. 

When Marcel and others say, in a deliberately inflammatory 
way, that "theodicy is atheism,"^^ they mean that by not differen- 
tiating its mode of approach from ordinary scientific knowledge, 
philosophy may treat God as a "something" alongside of other 
somethings, a special kind of object for thought. That is the basis 
for the oft-quoted remark: "When we speak about God, it is not 
about God that we speak." To speak about someone is to refer 
to him as absent, a "third person," an "it." But God is not an 
absent third. He is absolute presence, or, as Marcel says, Abso- 
lute Thou.^* Whatever is true of the infinite being, it clearly 
could not be correct to represent Him as outside the finite. The 
plenitude of being includes me. Therefore, the thought which 
seeks the infinite cannot approach it as it approaches things 
which are "somethings" alongside of other things. And the 
knower who affirms the infinite cannot be an anonymous episte- 
mological subject, but a unique singular self. What Marcel calls 
the "ontological exigence," the yearning for the plenitude of 
being, is the ultimate face which participation presents to my 
thought. My "proof" of God is my translation of this experience 
into language. This insight as to the cognitive import of the 
exigence for being is, of course, fundamentally Augustinian and 

12 Op. cit., p. 167-168. 

13 Metaphysical Journal, p. 64. 
1* Du refus a I'invocation, p. 53. 

246 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

Pascalian in character. We have only to recall Augustine's cry 
"Show me one who longs, and he will understand what I mean," 
and the revelatory use which Pascal made of man's experience 
of himself as an "infinite lack." It even goes back to Plato, for 
whom the philosopher's quest was an elan to the absolute, an 
upward rising of the whole self, in which his need and poverty 
were the dynamic principles of discovery. 


For some, the approach of Kierkegaard and Marcel will seem 
to be the substitution of an arbitrary emotionahsm for intelligi- 
bility, a kind of usurpation by wishful thinking of the proper 
place of reason. On the surface it may sound like this, and we 
must always be on our guard against reducing it to this in fact. 
However, what is involved is precisely the question of the 
criterion for intelligibility. Marcel does not regard mystery as 
confused or unintelligible. It is hyper-intelligible. Participation is 
a source of meaning; mystery is the light which issues from 
participation. We have so far spoken mostly of the mystery of 
being, but this may be particularized further. What of such 
experiences as love, hope, admiration, despair, fideUty? Are they 
cognitive revelations? The logical positivist, and many others, 
would treat these as merely psychologically significant and dis- 
miss their role as revelation of reahty. But to do so presupposes 
that they have a norm exterior to the experiences, by which to 
measure the meaning of the experiences — and this can be denied. 
Hope reveals something of the ultimate nature of man — but only 
to the hoper, or to one whose thought inhabits the realm of the 
hoper. The truth here discovered is a truth which a certain kind 
of thought will refuse to acknowledge. Yet the issue always comes 
back to whether this refusal can be justified without begging the 

The objection may be raised that if mystery is not demon- 
strable that the "knowledge" here gathered may be only an iUu- 

Existential Truth 247 

sion. Marcel's answer is that the metaproblematic is given as 
indubitable — but only to the participant.^^ There is no point in 
asking it to justify itself by standards other than its own. Actually 
any such process would turn out to be regressive, since the stand- 
ards would in turn require justification ad infinitum. If Marcel 
asserts that nothing but hope can be the source of the cognitive 
justification for hoping, he is not taking such an extraordinary 
position as might appear. AU intelligibihty is its own justification; 
he is only asserting that the sources of intelligibility are more 
widespread than we usually realize. It should be added that the 
"knowledge" which is generated in the return of thought to these 
experiences is not a securely possessed and transmittable theorem 
of some kind: it is never something I have at my disposal. It is 
something that I am rather than something that I have. The cog- 
nitive value of love or hope is sustained by a creative re-attach- 
ment of myself to these experiences. Since it does not bear on an 
external datum, it shares the elusive character of my own exist- 

Finally we must note that since the unique, singular subject is 
involved in the recognition of mystery, then freedom is involved. 
This is an extraordinary point. The singular self is a free self. 
If some evidence is only revealed to me as a singular being, then 
some evidence is only there for my freedom. Often the "evi- 
dence" is thought to be something which imposes itself on me 
whether I like it or not. It is as if I am hit over the head by the 
evidence and have no choice but to submit. But if Kierkegaard 
and Marcel are right, there is one sort of evidence which is a 
function of my freedom. This is not meant in an arbitrary sense, 
of course. Marcel tells us that in certain areas the subject is 
neither autonomous nor heteronomous; this division is simplis- 
tic.^*^ The evidence is indubitably there — but it is there as ap- 
peal.^^ It is sustained as there by my response. 

15 Being and Having, p. 114. 

16 Ibid., pp. 173-174. 

^"^ Du refus a. I'invocation, pp. 87-88. 

248 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

To designate this state of affairs, we may employ the somewhat 
starthng term "free certitude." StartHng, because certitude is 
often thought to be necessitated or else not really certitude. But 
this may easily be a consequence of the spatial schema which we 
usually frame for ourselves. What Marcel holds is that the intel- 
ligible evidence contained in the experiences of hope or joy is 
truly there, but not there for an impersonal observer, a merely 
logico-sensory subject, but only for a singular self. Then it is only 
there for freedom. It is indubitably there — for one who responds. 
Shall we call this "knowledge?" Why not, if knowledge is the 
openness of thought to reality? Why not, if there is no other way 
for this type of evidence to be present? 

A question which immediately ensues is as to the range of 
this kind of "certitude," since Marcel's own explorations by no 
means exhaust the wealth of revelations possible in the area of 
mystery. The full examination of the answer to this question is 
quite beyond the scope of this book, but the area most clearly 
indicated is in moral and aesthetic experience, which will be 
briefly dealt with. 

What Marcel's conception of mystery as "knowledge" comes 
down to is that there is that in human experience in virtue of 
which man can affirm himself as trans-phenomenal, Man is not 
only a being-in-a-situation, but a being-beyond-a-situation. In 
fact the great philosophical questions can be brought back to this 
one question: how does man affirm himself as a being-beyond- 
his-situation? Marcel's central point (and it is not unhke that of 
other existentiahsts) is that this affirmation cannot be made by 
a mere subject-in-general. The transcendent value of human ex- 
perience cannot present itself to a mere logico-sensory subject. 
Thus, the issues of God, freedom, and immortahty, and all the 
other questions they bring in their train, cannot be raised or 
settled by an impersonal knower. Reality as evidential presents 
a different countenance to this kind of knower than to a knower 
who thinks out of the ontological exigence. This exigence, there- 
fore, functions as a kind of "bhnded intuition" of plenitude which 

Existential Truth 249 

is a source of illumination and therefore a source of evidence.^^ 
This intuition is not an object of vision but a principle of vision. 
For the sake of explanation, we may liken it to the "creative 
intuition" of the artist. The artist's idea is not something which 
exists ready-made and pre-dates its embodiment. It comes to be 
in the artistic process. This is a strange and paradoxical truth, 
but a' truth nonetheless. When the poet or artist sits down to 
write or paint, he does not already have in his possession a com- 
pleted idea which he then simply transfers to paper. He does not 
first invent his idea and then embody it: he invents it by embody- 
ing it. Yet the strange thing is that his obscure intuition actually 
guides the process in which it comes into full being. 

The poet may not already know his idea prior to writing, but 
as he goes along he eliminates passages which do not adequately 
express this idea. Thus, he is judging his work relentlessly in 
the light of an idea which does not even exist until the work 
reveals it to him. The creative idea is not like a recipe or blue- 
print which is mechanically followed: it comes to be in the work 
itself. It is like a light shed on the work from which it is then 
read back. Just so, thinks Marcel, man has a creative intuition 
of being (of plenitude, of the transcendent dimensions of his own 
existence) : this is not an object of vision, but a hidden light 
which is shed upon experience and then read back out of experi- 
ence. Experience is the revelation of man, but it is also the revela- 
tion of the transcendent to which human existence opens. 

Again, however, if we ask which subject can affirm this dimen- 
sion, the answer must be the subject which belongs to the creative 
intuition. The transcendent is present to human experience pre- 
cisely as appeal. Just so, the artistic idea is present to the artist's 
consciousness as an appeal by which he is haunted: he can only 
affirm the existence of the appeal freely, in so far as he responds 
to it. He could not, as pure sensory consciousness or impersonal 
intellectual knower, assure himself that his consciousness con- 
is On the "blinded intuition," see Being and Having, p. 118, Mystery of 
Being, vol. I, p. 13. 

250 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

tained this appeal: the only subject who can afl5rm the appeal is 
the one which responds to it. This realm of subjectivity is called 
forth by the appeal and does not exist in separation from it. 
Here, too, participation founds subjectivity: the subjectivity of 
the artist is not an autonomous ego, but exists only in the appeal 
and response of the aesthetic process. Just so, the only thought 
which can affirm a transcendent dimension in man's existence is 
one which participates in that transcendence. 




The epistemological problem of the existence of other selves is 
both easier and harder to solve than is the more general problem 
of the existence of "objects" other than ourselves. It is at once 
apparent that our conviction that there are other selves asserts 
considerably more than does the mere conviction of an objective 
world in general. For in asserting that other selves exist, we are 
not merely asserting that objects exist, but that other subjects 
exist. When speaking of objects we do not at first experience in 
any urgent way the need to conceive the "inside" of these objects; 
an object is, so to speak, all "outside." This is especially true in 
the case of an inanimate thing like a stone or a mountain; we 
do not proceed by conceiving these things as there "for them- 
selves" in the way a conscious subject is.^ But the assertion that 
other selves exist does immediately entail the belief that there 
is more to certain entities than the corporeal front which they 
present to perception. This being sitting across from me on the 
subway train is not only a rather complicated kind of bodily 
object; he is also, I am sure, a subject. Maybe I am only observ- 
ing his "outside," his bodily behavior, but I am sure that there 
is an "inside," a conscious experience similar to my own. 

On reflection, however, the justification for this assurance may 

1 This is not to say that eventually a problem of this kind will not arise 
in respect to objects, since in some analogous way they too must be con- 
ceived as "subjects." 

252 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

strike us as hard to come by. For is not subjectivity just what is 
most private, most intimate, most non-communicable of all 
things? Surely I know that I exist as a subject, for I am in a 
privileged position with respect to my own experience: I am my 
own "inside." But this "inside" of mine, my interior conscious- 
ness, is, one would think, available for me alone. No one is 
present to my consciousness in the way that I am. No one can 
read my mind — my consciousness is that which is concealed from 
the probing scrutiny of others. My body is observable by others, 
but not my mental processes. In the same way, one might think 
that if there really are other subjects, still their subjectivity is 
just as concealed from me as my subjectivity is from them. Then 
how can I be sure that there are other selves if I do not directly 
observe them? Can I possibly directly experience any subjectivity 
besides my own? We would be inclined to say no. But then, 
whence do I derive the assurance of the existence of such sub- 
jectivities? From one standpoint this problem is manifestly more 
perplexing than the problem of other "objects," since it adds a 
completely new dimension to my claim to make contact with what 
is other than myself. 

Yet from another standpoint it is easier to get at than the 
more general problem. Even though I may be perplexed as to 
how I can be certain that other selves exist, I do not seem to 
experience much difl&culty with the meaning of the assertion that 
they do. That is, I have a perfectly good notion of what it means 
to exist as a self, and I experience no great barrier in conceiving 
what it would mean for other selves to exist. This is in sharp 
contrast to the difiSculty I feel when I try to imagine the inde- 
pendent existence of a cloud, a leaf, a stone, an atom, or a lump 
of earth. I may be convinced that these things do exist independ- 
ently, but I am very confused as to what it "feels" like to exist in 
this way. There is no such obstacle in grasping the meaning of 
the existence of other selves, for the mode of existence here 
asserted is the mode of existence which I myself actually experi- 

Intersubjective Knowledge 253 

ence. We stand, then, in a peculiarly ambiguous condition of 
assurance and uncertainty in respect to this question. 

The question is not a particularly old one in the history of 
philosophy, and it may first be dealt with in the form of the 
"problem of other minds," which was first posed by John Stuart 
Mill and which has become what might be called the traditional 
form of this question. Let it be noted that the problem of "other 
minds" is significantly, though subtly, different from the problem 
of "other selves." A mind is conceived specifically as the interior 
psychic concomitant of a bodily process. If my retina is stimulated 
by a light-wave, I may perceive the color red; or if the tympanum 
of my ear is set vibrating by a sound-stimulus, I may hear a shrill 
noise. Any witness may observe the stimuU and my outward reac- 
tions, and a physiologist may even observe and measure my neural 
and cortical reactions; but no witness may observe my conscious 
perception of red or shrill. That is available to me alone. What is 
true in the case of sensations is apparently even more true in the 
case of emotions or thoughts: I may be "observed" in a fit of 
pique or a brown state, but this observation is restricted to my 
grimaces and bodily postures, and does not extend to an awareness 
of what I am feelmg and thinking. 

This line of reflection led Mill to his problem of why, if it is 
true that we cannot directly observe the interior life of conscious- 
ness of another, we ever can be said to "know" that other minds 
really exist. His answer is the "analogy" argument, which was 
once standard but has lately lost favor. ^ The circumstances of the 
situation are this: Only outward behavior is available for observa- 
tion, and it must therefore be that outward behavior gives us the 

2 For criticism of the analogy argument, see Max Scheler, The Nature 
of Sympathy, trans, by Peter Heath, intro. by Werner Stark (New Haven: 
Yale University Press), 1954, p. 239ss.; John Wisdom, Other Minds (Ox- 
ford: Blackwell), 1952, p. 68ss., p. 194ss.; Louis Arnauld Reid, Ways of 
Knowledge and Experience (London: Allen & Unwin), 1961, p. 237ss.; 
W. Wylie Spencer, Our Knowledge of Other Minds (New Haven: Yale 
University Press), 1930, p. 55ss. 

254 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

basis for our inference in respect to the inner concomitant. This 
is possible because in one instance, our own life, we have a privi- 
leged access to the inner concomitant. We then proceed by this 
reasoning: In my own case I realize that certain bodily processes 
are accompanied by inner conscious processes (unified under the 
term "mind") and therefore I decide that when I observe these 
bodily processes in others, I may infer that they are accompanied 
by mental processes not directly observable by me. My certainty 
that others exist is a product of an analogical inference which sets 
out from my own existence and its known connection with my 
bodily actions.^ 

Now in spite of an initial plausibility, this view is open to various 
objections which rather conclusively refute it, and which have more 
or less led to its abandonment. Of these objections, we will men- 
tion only two. First of all, there is what might be called the "mirror 
argument," which has been very frequently employed against it.* 
What Mill has contended is that I argue to the consciousness of 
others by supplying a missing link in a chain of analogy which 
begins with my own behavior, a patent fallacy. In order for me to 
argue that behind the bared teeth and squinting eyes which I now 
observe in this face confronting me there is a feeling of kindness 
and good humor, I would, on Mill's terms, have had to observe 
my own inner feelings as united to similar outward conduct: I 
would have had to observe myself smiling. But that, of course, 
I do not do. I don't know how I look when I smile, or am angry, 
or embarrassed, or sad. In my own case, I have the inner feeling 
but not the outer view. If I wanted to have the outer view of 
myself in the grip of these emotions, I would have to observe my 
facial and bodily contortions in a mirror — hardly a standard pro- 
cedure. Therefore I do not comprehend that certain bodily behav- 
ior is the sign of another mind by comparing it to my own bodily 

3 John Stuart Mill, An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philoso- 
phy, Chapt. XII. 

* See Scheler, op. cit., p. 240; Reid, op. cit., p. 238; Spencer, op. cit., p. 

Intersubjective Knowledge 255 

behavior, for the simple reason that this is a comparison I could 
not possibly make, never having observed my own behavior. 

Secondly, it can be shown that if I did proceed by analogical 
inference in this way, such an inference could never give me the 
other, lyiill suggests that I derive my knowledge of the other by 
this means, but this is impossible. Unless I already had an aware- 
ness of the other, then the best I could do by means of an analogy 
would be to argue that behind a certain bodily facade was my own 
consciousness. That is, beginning with this proportion: this sort 
of bodily behavior is accompanied by my consciousness, then 
whenever I met this sort of bodily behavior, I would infer that it 
is accompanied by my consciousness. For the analogy to be strict, 
there would have to be some middle term that could serve as a 
sign of the presence of another; but if behavior is the middle term, 
then I only know what behavior signifies in the case when both the 
sign and the signified are present — my own conscious experience. 
Therefore, behavior signifies my consciousness, and it could only 
validate an inference to my consciousness. Nor could we claim 
that we must distinguish between my behavior and the other's 
behavior, for that is just what is in question: the behavior is 
supposed to be the basis for my awareness of another self, and I 
cannot begin by assuming that I already know it to be the behavior 
of another self. 

This reasoning seems to be suflficient to deprive the argument 
from analogy of any claim to explain the origin of our knowledge 
of other selves. This is not to say that analogical inference in a 
broad sense may not be frequently used in interpreting others' 
conduct, but it cannot explain our awareness of the other as such, 
since it already presumes this awareness. We note aheady that the 
approach to the problem of other selves taken by this argument 
presumes that this knowledge is not primary, that it is the product 
of some sort of inference. There is no need to take much cognizance 
of this belief in its most aggravated form, the contention that the 
only things directly given to consciousness are bundles of discrete 
sense data, and that everything else is a matter of construction or 

256 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

interpretation. This view itself is an assumption, and a very shaky 
one. It will help to begin with the confidence that much more can 
be given to direct experience than the sense-datum theorist or the 
phenomenalist wiU admit. 

Actually, anyone beginning with the phenomenalist viewpoint 
has a literally impossible task in reaching another self. On the 
phenomenahst's assumption, only transitory and discrete sense- 
data are available to consciousness. Given this assumption, even 
the meaning of the assertion that other selves exist becomes doubt- 
ful. If, on the phenomenalist's basis, an "object" is simply a logical 
construction out of a set of sense data, then so is a subject. What 
it would mean to reach another self as a logical construct is very 
hard to imagine. Not only would this construct be indistinguish- 
able from the object-construct, but it would have independent 
reality only in the meaningless Pickwickian sense of all phenome- 
nahst "objects." 

Yet, even if we start with the expectation that much more can 
be directly given to us in experience than impoverished sense data, 
there is still a very special diflQculty in wondering how another 
mind can be directly given. Here we may consult the exhaustive 
and entertaining presentation of the problem which was made by 
John Wisdom.^ Wisdom's difiiculty comes down to this: Once we 
have made the plausible distinction between the inside and the out- 
side of experience (mind and body), how can we ever be sure that 
any outside is the sign of any inside? That is, if we distinguish 
between any emotional state and its bodily expression, and say 
that the second is observable while the first is not, how, given this 
split, can the second ever be taken as a sure sign of the presence 
of the first? For example, I might hold as an obvious fact that the 
pain which I feel is not to be identified with the gnashing teeth, 
roUing eyes, and clenched fists which manifest this pain outwardly. 
What I mean by saying that I am in pain is my excruciating, non- 
outward feehng. So with gaiety, delight, sorrow, disappointment, 

5 Wisdom, op. cit., p. 84. 

Inter subjective Knowledge 257 

anxiety, or any psychic state — we may distinguish the mental state 
from the bodily manifestation. 

Then, says Wisdom, what possible guarantee do I have that this 
bodUy state in another corresponds in him to a mental state such 
as it would correspond to in me? I assume it does, but do I know 
that it does? Since I don't observe his emotional state, it always 
seems at least logically conceivable that it is very different from 
what it would be in me, given similar bodily manifestations. Here 
I see someone rolling his eyes, clenching his fists and screaming, 
and I say he is in pain. But how do I know that this is not the 
way in which he expresses delight? I don't observe his felt pain, I 
only infer it. Similarly, a mother playing with her baby may 
observe what she takes to be all the outward signs of joy: laugh- 
ter, waving arms, gurgling. Yet can she be logically certain that 
these particular gesticulations are not the manner in which this 
particular being expresses his grief? Isn't it conceivable that the 
mother is inflicting the tortures of the damned upon her baby and 
that he is expressing it in this unfortunate manner which misleads 
his doting parent? Obviously, this sort of question here bears on 
the accuracy with which we can read the inner life of the other 
and not on the question of how we can know that there is another 
there. Yet it could be easily generalized, for we might think of the 
misreading being extended without limit, so that we could misread 
as conscious responses what were only the responses of an 

The bizarre character of such reflection inevitably forces the 
suspicion that there must be something fundamentally wrong with 
posing the problem of other selves quite in this way. No doubt the 
mind-body distinction is valid, and no doubt there is an irreducible 
difference between mental and physical processes. Yet to treat the 
body as a kind of facade behind which the existence and nature 
of mind has to be verified seems to get things off on the wrong 
foot. We might try to recover a certain balance even within this 
framework by suggesting a "king and three sages" type of inference 
to other minds. Perhaps, one might hold, we do not infer immedi- 

258 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

ately to the inside of others, but go through our own. That is, I 
can infer that the other understands my inner life. This could 
happen somewhat as follows: Suppose I am in a position where 
someone is causing me pain, let us say a dentist drilling my teeth. 
Eyes tearing and blinking, knuckles white, face contorted, I finally 
complain that it hurts, I may reason as follows: if he understands 
by the word "pain" what I understand by it, he will do what I 
would do if I understood what he meant by the word "pain" and 
he told me that I was hurting him. The dentist stops drilling. I 
then infer that he and I mean the same thing by the word pain. 
If he thought that by "pain" or "hurting" I meant pleasure or 
delight, he would smile cheerfully and keep blasting away. The 
fact that he doesn't indicates that the word "pain" signifies a 
reality about which he and I feel the same. The example, of course, 
could be extended to take in not only pain but pleasure, joy, sor- 
row, and so forth. What happens is not that I infer how another 
feels, but that I infer how he would act if he knows how I feel." 
Suppose, while still remaining within this general assumption of 
an "indirect" knowledge of others, we try to situate the problem 
of "other minds" against a wider background. The child certainly 
becomes aware of the existence of others before he makes the 
distinction between mind and body: he knows himself as a member 
of a class of which there are other members. Subsequently, one 
may suggest, he reahzes that he has a "mind" and he wonders 
whether his natural behef that the other members of the class 
likewise do is well founded. How might he assure himself of this?^ 
One route to this assurance might be the responsive character 

6 The example given here includes language, whose crucial importance 
is clear. But it might be proved without bringing in language at all. If I 
merely wish the dentist would stop, yet refrain from saying anything, while 
my physical symptoms are identical, and if he actually does stop, I infer 
that he understands my physical symptoms. He does what I would wish 
him to do if he understood my inner life. Does this prove that I can read 
his inner life? At least it shows a certain mutuality between us which, I 
might assume, could just as well run from my side to his. 

7 The ensuing remarks owe much to the discussion of Spencer, op. cit., 
pp. 20-48, who makes many interesting and instructive points on this issue. 

Intersubjective Knowledge 259 

which distinguishes the behavior of certain objects of my experi- 
ence from others. The child crying for the rattle he has just hurled 
from him elicits no response from the bars of his play-pen or 
from the carpet, but a human being nearby may retrieve it for 
him. There is thus built up the realization of a close connivance 
between this behavior and his wishes. His reaching out finds 
response in one case and not in another. There is a reciprocity 
which is missing elsewhere. Some might insist that these responses 
are still physical, that the other is doing what I would do with my 
own body if I could — and that hence this approach does not give 
us another mind. The fact that this is a true response of the other 
and not an extension of my own will is brought forcibly home in 
the instances where the response is of rivalry or resistance. 

Further, there are cases where the response called for and 
elicited is not just another physical act; sometimes I require col- 
laboration in a fully conscious process, and then the response 
becomes evidence for a fully conscious respondent. Some activities 
call into play our full nature as human beings, and those who are 
able to respond and co-operate in such acts evince thereby the 
presence of other minds. It is the other who actually calls us forth 
into full self -consciousness. The parents playing with the child are 
not opaque "others" to an aheady conscious individual; they are 
instruments by which the individual is brought to consciousness. 
Their response is implicated in his consciousness. As this con- 
sciousness expands, it expands in reciprocity with the other: in 
friendship, in common endeavors, in shared enthusiasms, the other 
responds to me in my entirety as a human entity, and therefore 
his entirety is present in his response. We now approach the real- 
ization that it is not quite right to think of the "mmd" of the 
other as concealed behind a bodily facade. If our self comes-to- 
consciousness, then the respondents in this process of coming-to- 
consciousness are already present as minds. Mind, then, is at the 
boundary of the self and the other: it is a revelation of the other 
as well as the self. The primary manifestation of this, of course, is 
language, which is a perfectly "open" reahty. Human conscious- 

260 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

ness finds itself in language. Then in finding itself it does not find 
only itself. 

The objection may be raised that this awareness of others as 
respondents does not explain our rich and detailed awareness of 
individual selves, siace it is rather indiscriminate and generalized. 
The point is valid enough, but the question may also be asked how 
we know our own selves as individual and unique beings. It is too 
easily assumed that the meaning of "I" is clear, but the meaning 
of "thou" is obscure. The truth may rather be that the profound 
meaning of "I" is equally hidden, that here, too, the revelation is 
a reciprocal one. Perhaps I only become "I" in the encounter 
with "thou" and perhaps apart from that encounter the only 
referent I have for "I" is a tatterdemalion succession of psychic 
states. Many modern philosophers have come to beHeve that this 
is the case. If something of the sort is true, then the problem is not 
of "other minds" or even of "other selves" but just the problem 
of "persons." Not even "other persons," for if these philosophers 
are right, the category of person already includes a reference to 
the other, and for one who knows himself as a person, there can- 
not be a problem of other persons. 


Before following up the suggestion contained in the preceding 
sentence, it will be interesting to inspect some views which make 
the transition to it easier. The primary drawback to the approaches 
outlined above is that they regard our awareness of "other minds" 
as indirect. Even where an attempt is made to avoid the errors of 
the "analogy" explanation, the assumption continues to be that 
the reality of other minds is not an immediate datum but is known 
through an inference of some sort. Now one way of undercutting 
this whole difficulty is obviously to make the opposite assumption — 
to assume that the other is given directly and does not have to be 
argued to at all. This alternative may strike us as outlandish if we 
are accustomed to conceiving experience in terms of "sense per- 

Intersubjective Knowledge 261 

ception." But in equating experience with "sense experience" we 
tend to forgej: that we could be led rather quickly to a reductio 
ad absurdum. For if only what is given immediately "to" the 
senses is a primary datum, then the only primary data are the 
discrete and multiple snippets of color, sound, scent, and so forth. 
I On this view, not only must we say that we don't perceive other 
selves directly, but also that we don't even perceive tables, chairs, 
or trees directly: we don't perceive "things" at all. With this, the 
epistemological bark is once again stranded in the backwaters of 
phenomenalism. Actually the plight of phenomenalism is extremely 
grave, for if the only hard datum is the discrete sensory immedi- 
ate, then it becomes extremely difficult to see how the entire past 
does not disappear from the catalog of the immediately known, 
and with it the continuing personal identity of the knower. Once 
the circle is broken and the suspicion dawns that direct perception 
may include much more than "sense data" it will not seem such 
an implausible claim that we may know other selves directly. 

One philosopher who pressed this claim was Max Scheler.'* 
Scheler's thesis was that expression was a primary datum and that 
as such it was the direct revelation of the other self. It is non- 
sense to say that we infer the existence of the other analogically, 
for the child who recognizes and responds to the warmth and 
friendliness of his mother's face is completely incapable of such an 
inference. Rather, the warmth and kindliness are expressive 
phenomena, just as much directly given as the color of the 
mother's hair or the size of her face. What we perceive are not 
"bodies" or "minds" but integral wholes: our distinction between 
the "body" and the "self" of the other post-dates this primary 
perception. Once we break out of the bonds of an empiricism 
which is essentially unfaithful to experience, we will see that our 
primary experience is that of configurational unities. Therefore, 
there is no problem of how I infer the reality of a mind behind a 
bodily facade, since I only arrive at calling this thing a "body" by 

8 Op. cit., p. 239, 

262 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

subtracting something from the origmal experience. By adopting 
a certain attitude, I can see the bared teeth and squinting eyes as 
purely a physiological facade; but from a different posture, I see 
a smile. I cannot "compose" the smile out of "purely physiological" 
features, for the smile is not accessible from the mental stance in 
which I am able to identify something as a "purely physiological 
feature."® Neither can I break it down into physiological elements. 
The smile is an original phenomenon of expressiveness. 

Scheler goes even further. His contention is that, far from it 
being "self-evident" that I cannot experience another's experience, 
it is perfectly natural for me to do so.^° The apparent impossibility 
of it is assumed because I think too exclusively with reference to 
another's bodily states when thinking of his "experience."" It is 
true that I cannot feel his pain or experience his sensation of 
seeing or hearing. As part of the bodily complex, these are tied to 
the purely private nature of the bodily complex. But the situation 
changes in regard to the higher spiritual states, the emotions 
proper. There is no reason why I cannot experience another's 
grief or joy. I do not "argue" to these or infer their presence 
behind a corporeal facade. In some cases we may even speak, says 
Scheler, of one emotion shared by two selves. A father and mother 
standing together by the body of their dead child have their grief 
in common. There are not here simply two consciousnesses, but 
two consciousnesses sharing one identical sorrow. They experience 
it as "our sorrow."^" In the face of such experiences, the problem 
of "other minds" loses aU standing. 

Similarly, Scheler adduces the nature of sympathy as a patent 
example of reaching the experience of the other. Sympathy is 
somewhat different from the parents' shared grief, for I may 
sympathize with another's grief without actually feehng that grief 
myself. My sympathy in another's grief (or joy) cannot be 

^Ibid., pp. 261-262. 

10 Ibid., pp. 244-247. 

11 Ibid., p. 254. 

^^ Ibid., pip. 12-13. 

Intersubjective Knowledge 263 

regarded as 'an original revelation of the existence of the other, for 
the act of sympathy already presupposes knowledge of the reality 
of that with which I am in sympathy." But sympathy is an irre- 
ducibly given experience and its existence is a standing rebuttal to 
those who declare that the experience undergone by another is 
sealed off to me. Sympathy exists precisely because of the acces- 
sibility of the emotion of the other for me; consequently, it is a 
testimony to that accessibihty. My commiseration with another's 
grief or rejoicing in his joy is consequent upon the transparence of 
his emotional consciousness for my own.^^ 

Another philosopher who reaches the other directly and with- 
out any sort of inference is Jean-Paul Sartre. His views are 
fashioned in a metaphysical context peculiar to himself, but possess 
a value by no means restricted to that context. Where Scheler 
concentrates upon our experience of sympathy, Sartre finds the 
presence of the other most piercingly revealed in the experience 
of shame. It is not too much to say that for him our experience of 
shame is the experience of the other. Actually Sartre begins his 
analysis by regarding consciousness as a hyper-isolated knower. 
Proceeding by a strict act/object analysis of consciousness, he 
arrives at his now famous distinction between the en-soi and the 
pour-soi, into which we may follow him just far enough for our 
present purposes. ^^ Consciousness breaks down into awareness 
(pour-soi) and object of awareness (en-soi). The primary fact 
about awareness is that it is not its object. The primary fact about 
the object is that it excludes whatever is introduced by awareness. 
We then begin with a dichotomy between two different modes of 
being: being as awareness and being as the object of awareness. 
The first Sartre calls being-for-itself (pour-soi) and the second 

13 Ibid., p. 8. 

14 To make this viewpoint stand up, Scheler must show that sympathy 
actually does have this intentional reference to the other and that it is not 
reducible to elements which do not require this interpretation. This he does 
on pp. 37-50. 

15 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, pp. Ixiv-lxix, 21-24, 73-79, 

264 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

being-in-itself (en-soi). All negation is introduced into reality by 
consciousness: consciousness is not its object; its pure being-for- 
itself and not-being-its-object is the source of all negation. The 
in-itself which is purely other than consciousness escapes all 
negations and is conceived by Sartre as a massive self-identity, a 
kind of solid block of being. 

All this is mentioned in order to lead up to the revelation of the 
other, as Sartre conceives it. Consciousness, the for-itself, exists 
as a kind of pure spontaneity which faces the inert passivity of the 
in-itself like a god in splendid isolation. All the world is a stage 
and it is the sohtary player. In fact, as the solitary actor (the 
in-itself is inert), it confers the character of being a stage upon 
the in-itself. It makes a world wherein it can act. This is what 
Sartre calls the "project" of consciousness, by which it constitutes 
the arena in which it disports. But now, in a typically flamboyant 
manner, Sartre introduces the jarring presence of the other. The 
other's presence announces itself as my shame. ^® Suppose, says 
Sartre, I am engaged in some reprehensible activity, say kneeling 
down and looking through a keyhole. In this situation, the for-itself 
is a pure spontaneous looking-at an object; at this moment it 
projects its world in an absolutely autonomous way. Its frivohty 
is like the extreme of a fiat which constitutes its world and its own 
freedom. Suddenly, while I am in this ridiculous posture, I hear 
footsteps round the corner and look up to see two contemptuous 
eyes peering down at me. At once, my world collapses. Now I am 
not viewer but viewed. I feel myself looked at, and my autonomy 
and spontaneity ooze away. I am no longer a for-itself, but for- 
another. I feel the muscles in my jaws tighten, my mouth dry up, 
my body become a ludicrous and unwieldy bulk — I feel myself 
congealing to the rigidity of the in-itself. The other is the gorgon's 
head which turns me to stone. 

Shorn of all specifically Sartrean trimmings, this is still a 
powerful example of what would be meant by the direct experience 

^^Ibid., pp. 221-222, 259-263. 

Inter subjective Knowledge 265 

of the other. This is no inference, no argument by analogy. The 
other is there as directly as my shame. His presence is so directly 
felt that it causes my own to shrivel. Far from having to argue to 
his existence from my own, I would give anything to be freed from 
this utterly obtrusive presence, so that I might gather up the pieces 
of my own shattered existence.^^ 

With these two examples as beginnings, it will occur to many 
that this approach could be broadened to include various other 
instances. What sympathy and shame do is to distill into a very 
pure form a quahty which is widely, though more weakly, present 
in experience. We need only think of such states as admiration, 
loyalty, expectation, or anxiety; or such conditions as loneliness or 
boredom, which are testimonies in reverse to the reality of the 
other. Much could be done to show that these experiences are 
phenomenologically unintelligible except in relation to another 
self. Loneliness is an especially clear example of this. The experi- 
ence of loneliness is built upon the experience of the other, but 
the experience of the other as now absent. Reference to the other 
is to such a degree an ontological dimension of the self that in the 
complete absence of aU others, my being is still turned towards the 
absent. There is no possibiUty of explaining this inferentially or 
of reducing it to different terms. This consideration was in Scheler's 
mind when he declared that an imaginary Robinson Crusoe who 
had never in all his life perceived any beings of his own kind 
would still be said to know the thou and possess the notion of 
community.^^ Scheler's position is that the knowledge of the 
nature of community and the existence of the thou in general is 
an a priori factor, given as an irreducible background to any 
encounter with individual persons — given, one might say, as a 

1" We need not follow Sartre into the consequences which he drew from 
such cases. He became so obsessed with the "look" as the revelation of the 
other that in his thought, human relations become a mutual "staring-down" 
process, the "other" is consistently regarded as either a threat or an oppor- 
tunity for appropriation, and the whole positive side of intersubjectivity is 
largely lost. 

18 Op. cit., pp. 234-235. 

266 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

structural component of the human person. The sphere of the thou 
is just as essentially and irreducibly a sphere of the fundamental 
being of man as is the sphere of the "external world." Seen in this 
light, the human person is a reference to a thou, and his coming 
to self-consciousness is mediated by this reference and impossible 
without it. 


The most promising area of escape from the problem of "other 
selves" seems to lie in the direction of suppressing the assumption 
upon which it rests. This is the assumption that the intelligibility 
contained in the "I" is anterior to that contained in the "thou." If 
this is not so, if on the contrary the meaning of "I" is a function 
of the "thou," then it is clearly inconsistent for the I to raise the 
question of the existence of the thou. Among the philosophers 
who press for this solution, the most prominent name in the last 
century was that of Josiah Royce. According to Royce, the self 
was through and through a social entity: whatever meaningful 
content I have for the word "I," I build up out of an original 
experience of relationship. 

I am not first self-conscious and then secondarily conscious of my 
fellow. On the contrary, I am conscious of myself, on the whole, as in 
relation to some real or ideal fellow, and apart from my consciousness 
of my fellow, I have only secondary and derived states and habits of 

And again: 

Speaking in psychological terms, one can say that our finite self- 
consciousness is no primitive possession at all but is the hard-earned 

19 Josiah Royce, Studies of Good and Evil (New York: Appleton), 1898, 
p. 201. See also The World and the Individual, Second Series (New York: 
Macmillan), 1900, pp. 245-277. 

IntersubjectiVe Knowledge 267 

outcome of the contact between the being capable of becoming rational 
and the rationally disposed world in which he slowly learns to move.^o 

The individual does not first know himself as a rational conscious 
being and then search about to discover whether, behind external 
appearances, there are other beings like him. Rather, his gradually 
developing explicit consciousness of himself as a rational, con- 
scious being is an interpretive awareness of himself as a focal 
point in a social whole. Rational consciousness is essentially social; 
aU philosophical questions are raised by rational consciousness, 
and it is therefore barren to raise as a rational issue the existence 
of other selves. In this outlook, Royce is true to and inspired by 
the earlier idealism of Hegel, from whom the whole conception of 
the social nature of consciousness ultimately seems to derive. But 
his idealism finds echoes in quite different sorts of thinkers, such 
as the somewhat behavioristically oriented American philosopher, 
G. H. Mead, who was long preoccupied with this issue and sums 
up his feelings in the declaration that "It is impossible to conceive 
of a self arising outside of social experience."^^ 

Martin Buber and Gabriel Marcel speak a different idiom from 
that of Royce, but the conception of the self as social is the corner- 
stone of their thought. Much of the point of this thought wiU be 
missed unless it is understood that they do not treat the self as an 
already realized entity which remains identical throughout the 
gamut of its experiences. The self is essentially a creative category: 
it is something which exists and is achieved in the order of free- 
dom. Marcel and Buber locate the full potentiation of the self in 
its encounter with the thou, and it is in their discovery and ex- 
ploration of the unique nature of this encounter that their contribu- 
tion to the discussion consists. Others have emphasized the social 

20 Ibid., p. 207. 

21 George H. Mead, Mind, Self and Society, edit, by Charles W. Morris 
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1934, p. 140. See the interesting 
comparative study of Mead and Buber done by Paul E. Pfuetze, The Social 
Self (New York: Bookman Associates), 1954. 

268 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

character of the self in more general terms, but Marcel and Buber 
put their stress upon the singular character of the thou.^^ Whatever 
the "I" is, it is as unique; whatever establishes the "I" in its 
uniqueness establishes it in its authentic being. Whatever questions 
are posed about the other are either posed by a generahzed "I" 
(say, an epistemological subject-in-general, or a social self) or by 
the "I" in all its uniqueness. Many have had a tendency to 
approach the problem of "other selves" from the side of a merely 
generalized "I." Marcel and Buber drive towards the unique and 
unrepeatable "I" and attack the problem in terms of it. But what 
they discover is that the unique and unrepeatable "I" only knows 
itself as such in the face of a "thou." Apart from my relation to 
the "thou," I am not aware of myself as a unique self at all — I am 
a mere bundle of sensations, series of experiences, or logical think- 
ing subject. Here is a paradoxical discovery: the unique is a cate- 
gory of communion. If I want to say "I" in the most intense and 
fully reahzed way, I must say "thou." The unique dimension of 
existence represented by the "I" only emerges to consciousness in 
so far as there is an encounter with a "thou." 

This means that my full experience of selfhood does not have 
priority over others, but is a co-emergent of communion. If any- 
thing, it is the other who has priority: the thou gives me to myself. 
What Marcel and Buber have discovered is the thou as an original 
dimension of existence. They make a fundamental distinction 
between an "I-it" relation and an "I-thou" relation. They make 
this as an ontological distinction, and not merely a psychological 
one: that is, we cannot represent things as though there is one 
identical "I" variously related to others, but existing in the same 
ontological manner through the various relations. Rather the "I" 
is a relational category, and its status in bemg varies with its 

22 A convenient place to meet Ruber's thought on this is / and Thou, 
trans, by Ronald Smith (New York: Scribner's), 1958, asp. p. 3ss. This 
"I-thou" theme is scattered through Marcel's whole work, but special refer- 
ence may be made to The Mystery of Being, vol. I, p. 176ss, Metaphysical 
Journal, p. 219ss, and Du refus a V invocation, pp. 50-52. 

Intersubjective Knowledge 269 

relation: the "I" of the "I-it" relation is ontologically different 
from the "I" of the "I-thou" relation.^^ 

Certainly we may see what is meant by saying that an "I" 
which was reflexively conscious of itself in an "I-it" relation would 
not be conscious at the same ontological level as the "I" which was 
reflexively conscious in the "I-thou" relation. What this amounts 
to, then, is that the thou introduces us to a new dimension of being. 
In my relation with another person, being is revealed to me in a 
manner in which it is not revealed in any relation with a non- 
personal reaUty. "Things" or "objects" are not there for me in the 
way in which a thou is there. They are always to a certain extent 
"absent" — truncated, alien presences. Only in a personal encounter 
do I undergo the full experience of presence; and this is a twofold 
assertion: only in a personal encounter am I reaUy present to 
myself, through the presence of a thou. Self-presence and the 
presence of a thou are two sides of one coming-to-presence which 
is the creative achievement of human communion. 

This must not be taken to mean that wherever I am as a matter 
of fact dealing with a human person, I actually do encounter a 
thou. The tragedy of the human condition is exactly that the 
experience of the thou is so fugitive and tenuous. Clearly the 
"presence" spoken of here does not refer to simply physical 
presence. The table or chair is "with" me in that sense. Other 
human beings who are occupying the same region of space with 
me do not automatically become "thou's": my fellow workers in 
the office, the people sitting across from me on the subway, or 
standing shoulder to shoulder in the elevator, even those with 
whom I am ostensibly "talking" can be mere "absent thirds." The 
genuine experience of the thou is a relatively rare and privileged 
one. That is why Marcel will concentrate on such experiences as 
love, hope, or fideUty, which are thematically centered on the thou 
in the fullness of his presence. It is in experiences Hke these that 
the full ontological originality of the thou can be appreciated. 

23 Buber, op. cit., p. 3, 12. 

270 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

For the thou to whom I am related in love cannot be grasped 
in the manner of a thing "about which" I speak. He is precisely 
incommensurate with all descriptive language. Love does not bear 
on a "content" or a characterizable object. The beloved being is 
not a repository of certain predicates in which I can summarize 
the foundation for my affection. ^^ Love bears on an uncharacter- 
izable presence. It opens me to the mystery of the singular. Pre- 
cisely in so far as a being is beloved, he is beyond all inventory 
which I could take of him to explain why he is beloved. Objects 
can be characterized; objects can be given predicates; in fact an 
"object" (in the sense of Buber and Marcel) just is the presumed 
structure upon which I can hang my set of predicates. But that 
which I characterize, that to which I assign predicates, is always 
that "about which" I am speaking: it is spoken of in the third 
person. A "thou" is not that about which I speak, but the one to 
whom I speak: it is addressable only in the second-person. 
Presence, second-personness, cannot be approached from the side 
of objectified structure. It therefore represents an original revela- 
tion of being, a revelation which is inaccessible by any other route. 

This last remark wiU help in answering a question which is 
bound to come up at this point: in what sense can the experience 
of the thou be called "knowledge?" It may be thought that I have 
added very little to my store of expressible information through 
the experience of love or fidelity, and there may be the renewed 
suspicion that these are only psychologically interesting states of an 
individual subject. Now it may be allowed at the outset that if 
knowledge is identified with "information," this objection is well 
taken. For all information bears on "objects," and a thou is not 
an object but a presence. All information, too, is conceived as 
transmittable through the ordinary channels of language to any 
properly equipped observer: but the truth of the thou is not 
transmittable to an observer at all, but to the "I" which is co- 
present with it, and which is a participant, not an observer. 

^Hbid., p. 17. 

Intersubjective Knowledge 271 

Nevertheless there is a defense for continuing to use the word 
"knowledge" here. First of all, "knowledge" can be extended to 
take in the ground of a propositional statement, and in this sense 
any original source of evidence is freighted with cognitional value. 
Here, the I-thou experience clearly qualifies : the only way to know 
another person in his singularity is to love him, and hence love is 
cognitional. But further, to the extent that this experience can be 
expressed at all, its expression can be said to acquire the status of 
knowledge in so far as it is an instrument by which thought 
regains the experience and recognizes the revelation inherent in it. 
Not transmittability, but expressibility may be taken as the hall- 
mark of knowledge. With this proviso, it is not hard to assign 
various cognitional aspects to the I-thou relation. 

As has been seen, it is a revelation of a new dimension of being, 
inaccessible in any other way. The "thou" is ontologically unique 
and cannot be reduced either to an object or to a projection of the 
self. The uncharacterizable presence which I discover in love, 
hope, or fidelity, reveals something to me which cannot be re- 
vealed to sense perception, logical thought, or objectified knowl- 
edge. To the extent that I succeed in expressing this unique dimen- 
sion of being, I may be said to know what I could not otherwise 
know and therefore this expression is undoubtedly a sort of 
knowledge of being. 

In what sense can it be viewed as knowledge of the single one?^^ 
That is, what do I know of the thou whom I love which I would 
not otherwise know? Here we must tread carefully. In one sense, 
I don't know anything more. That is, since the thou is not known 
as a characterizable object, I don't add to my aggregate of "facts" 
about him through love. The thou cannot be reached as a toting 
up of traits, and therefore reaching the thou does not increase my 
objective knowledge about him. Yet, this must be emended. For 
surely, let us say, a young man who loves a girl "knows" her in a 
way that others do not. Far from being blind, love is rather a 

25 Ibid., pp. 62-63. 

2 72 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

principle of knowledge. Still, he does not "know her better" in 
the sense that he has been impelled to study her personality more 
closely and observe features which others might just as well ob- 
serve but don't bother to. He knows her in a manner that only 
one who loves her can know her. For her "being" or her "person" 
is not an already-realized objective reality viewed by him from a 
more advantageous perspective: it is a creative category. The boy's 
love is the creative invocation of her being: it is a participation 
in the mystery of her uniqueness. He does not simply see better 
traits which are already actually there: he calls forth perfections 
which are virtual in her — and virtual in the order of freedom.^® 
Her beauty, her charm, her goodness are not for him the same 
traits available for others: they are assimilated into the mystery of 
her uniqueness and appeal to him as revelation of that mystery. 
His response is a hope, a summons. Naturally love is impelled to 
declare itself, for the declaration makes more in-stant the qualities 
which it perceives. Love desires to call forth perpetually the beauty 
which its privileged vision sees, to bring to birth what is already 
bom. This is true not only of the love between man and woman, 
but equally and perhaps more plainly true of other sorts of love. 
Aristotle made the same point, albeit intermittently, in respect to 
friendship. Consider, too, the love of parent for child, where these 
features are thematic. The mother and father, in going out towards 
the person of their child, know themselves to be going out towards 
a being which is largely virtual and latent; they are enraptured by 
a singularity which they are conspiring to bring into being. Nothing 
could better illustrate the twofold character of love as both creation 
and response. My love calls forth the being of the other; but I 
love the other because I have found in him a being which I desire 
to call forth into the approval of my love. 

Do I in this manner "know" his uniqueness? If this means, can 
I enumerate what makes him unique, the answer must be "no." 

2« This is so even if his love is unrequited or unproclaimed. 

Inter subjective Knowledge 273 

Enumeration cannot reach the unique; for enumeration adds up 
"properties," and properties are always multipliable. Objectified 
thought, or indeed conceptual thought, must fall short of the 
singular. But I reach his uniqueness in the only way it can be 
reached — in the same way that he reaches it. For this person does 
not know his own uniqueness "objectively." His way of being 
present to himself cannot be reduced to an aggregate of traits; he 
does not know himself as a "what," but as inexpressible presence. 
But what quickens this presence and unfolds its fuUness is the 
encounter with a thou. Thus the unique "I" stands at the boundary 
of giving and receiving. Love knows the unique because it is a 
creator of the unique. 

As a consequence, there is another way in which the "I-thou" 
relation is cognitional; it is an instrument for my self-knowledge. 
The encounter with the thou is not only a revelation of the thou, 
but a revelation of myself. As we have seen, the "I" of the "I- 
thou" relation is met only within this relation. In relation to the 
thou I know something about myself that I could not otherwise 
know. Obviously this does not mean that I can enumerate more 
attributes of myself. But the uncharacterizable presence of the 
thou is also a revelation of an abyss of existence within myself. 
The whole "I-thou" experience is, so to speak, bottomless. It 
occurs in a realm that is transcendent in relation to objectified 
knowledge. In so far as I belong to this experience, I belong to a 
realm of being which is specifically inexhaustible. That is why 
Marcel will say "To love a person is to say to him, 'Thou at least 
shalt not die.' "" This is not to be understood as some kind of 
objective information which I have come across; it is simply the 
translation into language of the experience of presence with which 
communion is flooded. It will do no good to say that nevertheless 
he will die since all things come to an end, for the prophetic 
affirmation of love is precisely a proclamation that the beloved 

27 The Mystery of Being, vol. II, p. 62. 

2 74 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

as beloved is exempt from the penalties of thingness. The thou is 
not a thing. That is why the "I-thou" relation can provide the 
basis for a privileged kind of knowledge. 

Only to the extent that I can affirm myself as spirit, as trans- 
phenomenal, can I be said to have "knowledge" of the "immortality 
of the soul" (which is a rather unsatisfactory objectified phrase). 
Then the experiences which enable me to grasp the unique mean- 
ing of non-thingified personal existence occupy a crucial position 
for this sort of knowledge. The traditional "proof" for the immor- 
tality of the soul (as simple and spiritual) proceeds as if we 
could have an objective grasp of the soul as a special sort of 
thing with attributes implying natural immortality. But once the 
soul is approached in the objectified mode of thought, we are in 
danger of coming to rest in an implication of concepts. At best 
we have proved that the soul is a repository or an efficient cause of 
universal ideas and that thus it is immaterial. But an "it" which is 
not material is a rather negative notion and rather vulnerable to 
the formahst reduction of Kant. The positive intelligibility of 
existing as a person, rather than a thing, is given in the experience 
of communion. Only a thought which clings to communion remains 
attached to the meaning which makes the affirmation of immor- 
tality possible. It is not an object called the soul which is immortal; 
it is "we" who are immortal. We, here together, bound in love, we 
grant and bestow the mutual tokens of immunity from death. 
Immortahty is not a consequence implicit in the concept of "im- 
materiahty," it is a promise spoken to those existing in communion. 
Love, in being a revelation of the thou, is also a revelation of my 
self, and the trans-phenomenal character of my being. How do I 
affirm this? Only so far as I participate in communion. Love is 
"the active refusal to treat itself as subjective." It is charged with 
cognitive potentiaUties to the precise extent that it is love. Only a 
reflection which plunges into communion can make this affirma- 
tion, which is why communion is a source of knowledge. 

Finally, for the same reason, in the opinion of both Marcel and 
Buber, the "I-thou" relation is cognitive in yet another way. The 

Intersubjective Knowledge 275 

abyss of existence is revealed to subjectivity and subjectivity is 
revealed to communion. As a member of a spiritual communion 
I move in a realm of an open presence. The finite thou is always 
to some extent also a thing, but the aura of the inexhaustible 
which surrounds communion is an intimation of an unfailing 
presence which sustains it. The light of the Absolute Thou is shed 
across human communion. ^^ The transcendent is present to our 
experience as intimation, and this intimation is made to com- 
munion. The thou calls us beyond our isolated egos, and in calling 
summons us to a presence which founds a new being; but back of 
the discrete appeals which scattered selves fling out to us, there is 
the absolute appeal to found ourselves in a realm where love and 
fidelity make unassailable sense. For both Marcel and Buber, the 
I-thou relation is thus the avenue to the transcendent, and the 
proper name of God is Absolute Thou, 

Once again we may ask whether all this should be called 
"knowledge," assuming that we grant value to the description of 
experience herein recounted. It is not knowledge that is accessible 
to "anyone at all" — but then this may be too narrow an idea of 
knowledge. It is knowledge which is available, if Marcel and 
Buber are right, to one who belongs to the I-thou relation and 
whose thought rejoins that relation. To the extent that they suc- 
ceed in expressing this thought, they have raised the experience 
to a cognitive status; to the extent that this experience gives us a 
privileged access to an otherwise unavailable realm, it is a privi- 
leged sort of knowledge. 

28 Buber, op. cit., p. 75; Marcel, Du refus a I'invocation, pp. 179, 218. 



Certain of the problems in epistemology which are very much to 
the fore in contemporary speculation have not yet been touched 
on, nor could very much be done with them in a book of a fairly 
general character. Since they are so intrinsically interesting and 
important, however, and since they will call for so much continu- 
ing attention on the part of the philosophers of the future, it does 
not seem fitting to pass them by unnoticed. The following brief 
discussions are thereby appended, not in the behef that they do 
justice to their subjects, but only as indicators of territory still to 
be explored. 


It is well known that most of the important problems in con- 
temporary philosophy of science are epistemological in origin and 

Since its inception in the mechanical approach to nature of 
Galileo, classical physics had tended to proceed on the relatively 
uncritical acceptance of the categories natural to that approach. 
Originally science had been set on this path by the growing exas- 
peration with the futilities of Aristotleian physics, so forcefully 
expressed by Francis Bacon at the end of the 16th century. It was 
aU very well for Aristotle's purely contemplative philosophical eye 
to stress a teleological appreciation of nature, but this viewpoint 
had not advanced the interests of humanity one iota. Really to 
"know" nature ought to confer on man the power to intervene 

Remainders 277 

effectively in nature and to wrest its processes to human advan- 
tage. In keeping with a now familiar outlook, men began to feel 
that to know nature and to control it were convergent ideals. 
What good to assert, in Aristotle's manner, that the natures of 
things acted for "ends" if this led either nowhere or up a blind 
alley?^ It would be much better to seek out how events happen than 
to rest comfortable in the presumed knowledge of why they hap- 
pen. The search for the how led to a search for efficient causes, 
the actual agencies involved in the step by step occurrence of 
physical processes. 

This gave modern science a strong analytical turn, the ambition 
being to dissect a process into the serial activities which com- 
prised it. Analysis once initiated must be pursued to the end, for 
science could not feel it was understanding the ultimate "how" of 
natural processes until it could discover the ultimate physical com- 
ponents efficiently causing activity. It led, therefore, to a reinstate- 
ment of the atomic theory at the center of scientific operations. 
The ultimate efficient causes at work in physical processes were 
these smallest elements of matter, influencing each other in the 
only way they could be plausibly conceived as influencing each 
other, as chunks of matter — in other words, through mechanical 
forces.^ Since it is apparently impossible to conceive of mechanical 
forces acting otherwise than in a uniform and necessary manner, 
the outlook of classical physics inevitably became deterministic. 
When Laplace delivered his famous pronouncement in the 18th 
century, that for a hypothetical mind in possession of information 
as to the position and velocity of every ultimate particle in the 
universe, the whole future would be predictable, he was merely 
epitomizing a belief inherent in classical physics as such. 

1 The blind alley, for instance, of the explanation that fire "tends" upward 
because its "natural place" is "up," or the blind alley that the heavenly 
bodies travel in circular motion because the sphere is the perfect figure. 

2 The pre-eminence of mathematics is directly connected with both the 
analytical search for measurable constancies of interaction and with the 
only kind of unity possible in a mechanical system, the unity of laws which 
applied to integral sections of this system. 

278 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

Objective reality came to be envisaged in the image of the new 
mechanics and this vision seemed to be justified by the unprece- 
dented prosperity of theory and practice which it made possible 
for the burgeoning science. For classical physics, notions like 
mass, velocity, position, volume, pressure, force and the like were 
ultimate characteristics of an independently existing matter, and 
not simply abstract instruments by which man made his way in the 
world. On the contrary, "the" world was the world which cor- 
responded to these categories, and whatever features could not be 
reduced to these were relegated to a subsidiary mental, and hence 
subjective, status. 

This, we have seen, was the fate of the "secondary qualities," 
and it was also the fate of the notion of "quahty" in general. The 
new science was a science of quantity; qualities could find a place 
within it only to the extent that they had measurable correlates: 
thus, red and green as experienced are qualitatively and therefore 
incommensurably different, but their correlated light-waves are 
measurable and therefore scientifically admissible. Once this ap- 
proach is followed generally, it is a short step to the belief that 
these demoted qualities are not as "reaUy real" as their assumed 
quantitative basis. The real world becomes, by scientific consensus, 
a system of geometrically conceived material particles in motion. 

We have already seen some of the epistemological difficulties 
which arise out of this view, notably the difficulties inherent in the 
representationahst theory of perception. There is no need to go 
over these again. The present remarks will be chiefly concerned 
not with philosophy's problems with the views of science but with 
science's confusion about its own views. For, what has occurred 
in modem science is that the advances within science itself have 
forced a confused re-evaluation of many or all of the convictions 
of classical physics. The picture of the atomic universe as an 
indefinite number of sub-microscopic billiard balls soundlessly 
clicking together according to the rules of mechanics can no 
longer be held to be the portrait of the "real" world. Not only has 
the image of the atom as a solid chunk of matter been found 

Remainders 279 

inapplicable, but it is by no means clear that the newer notion of 
the atom as a miniature solar system with electrons in orbit around 
a nucleus, can be taken any more literally. In fact, there is such 
a wealth of problems now up for discussion in the philosophy of 
science that it would not even be possible to mention them all in 
any brief compass. Some attempt might be made to divide them 
into problems about the nature of scientific laws and principles on 
the one hand, and problems about the status of the objects with 
which science deals on the other. We will concentrate on the 
second sort of problem — (but these divisions surely overlap, due 
to the role of theory in identifying the "objects" of scientific 
inquiry) — and in doing so necessarily omit some problems of the 
first rank. Are scientific "laws" coercive edicts for the behavior of 
nature as classical physics tended to assume? Are they merely 
descriptive generalizations of the sequences of sense data, as 
Mach's positivism held in the last century? Are they tautologies, as 
some now hold? Is science's deterministic law of causality abso- 
lutely valid, as classical physics assumed and as some still hold — 
or is it a mere methodological rule as the Vienna Circle feels? Can 
the laws of statistics and probability which govern miscroscopic 
behavior really be incorporated into macroscopic order without 
philosophic anomaly? Should the Uncertainty Principle be con- 
strued as modifying the law of causality or is it simply a sign of a 
weakness in our powers of observation, as Einstein maintained? 
Such are some of the questions which we must pass over, but 
which would have to arise in any fuU discussion of the episte- 
mology of science. 

Even in selecting the second type of problem for concentration, 
the treatment must be sketchy. We will simply resort to the expe- 
dient of organizing several perplexities of contemporary philosophy 
of science around one central question: "What is the mode of 
reality which belongs to the objects about which science speaks?" 
Atoms, electrons, protons, nuclei, and the other sub-microscopic 
components are now practically household words, and that they 
are in some sense "real" is hardly open to question. But the precise 

280 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

manner in which their reality ought to be conceived is a matter of 
extreme perplexity. The natural thing to do would be to regard 
them as real in the same way that chairs, tables, rocks, and other 
familiar objects are real, only on a smaller scale. This was the 
older view, and the one which has now run into apparently insu- 
perable difficulties. There has occurred in contemporary physics 
what might be called a "crisis of explanation." Physics has found 
itself called upon to speak of the entities with which it deals in a 
way that casts doubt both on their mode of reahty and on its own 
mode of comprehending. Three sources for the confusion may be 
briefly cited: 

1) Most familiarly, there is the Uncertainty Principle of Heis- 
enberg,^ according to which it is impossible to state at the same 
time the position and velocity of an electron. Experimentally, this 
impossibility derives from the fact that any quantity of light suffi- 
cient to detect its position would modify its velocity, and con- 
versely, any quantity of light which would leave its velocity unaf- 
fected would not be sufficient to reveal its position. As far as the 
factual part of this situation goes, it is indisputable: our instru- 
ments of detection in this case thwart the discovery they seek to 
make possible. But so far forth, the impossibility might be re- 
garded as a hmitation on our instruments. One might continue to 
claim that the electron has a position and velocity, even though 
man is too clumsy to detect it. This is the view which Einstein 
defended, but the weight of contemporary physical authority is 
against him. According to the interpretation held by Heisenberg 
and the Copenhagen school, this impossibility is an impossibility 
in principle. It is in principle impossible to assert that the electron 
has a definite position and velocity at the same time. Briefly, their 
reasons are as foflows: at the sub-microscopic level, we do not 
have a right to attribute any features to entities unless we can 

3 See Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy (New York: Harper 
Torchbooks), 1962, asp. chapters III and X. For a popular explanation, see 
J. W. N. Sullivan, The Limitations of Science (New York: Mentor Books), 
1949, p. 69ss. 

Remainders 281 

verify them experimentally (since these entities are not items for 
observation alone); but if we assume that the electron does have 
a definite velocity and position simultaneously, the results of an 
experiment conducted on this assumption will not tally with ex- 
pectations; if, on the other hand, we introduce the concept of 
"probability" into position and velocity (as quantum physics 
does), our observations will tally with expectations. In other 
words, if it is right to assert that an electron has a simultaneous 
position and velocity, then the validity of quantum physics itself 
(which is firmly established) would have to be relinquished. 
Therefore it is not possible to speak of the electron having simul- 
taneously definite position and velocity. 

Now, to some ears such a statement may seem so outlandish 
as to invite instant dismissal — everything, we may insist, must be 
somewhere and moving at some speed at any given time. Yet to 
mitigate this kind of protest, we need only remind ourselves that 
this is so only if the electron is an object like familiar objects, 
and that is exactly the question. Thoughts and ideas, for instance, 
do not have to be confined to any definite point of place. When I 
have the idea of writing, my idea is effectively in my hand and 
in my head at the same time. Or more pertinently, we might ask 
ourselves at what position a "wave" is situated. The wave as such 
is not localizable at a definite position. These elementary consider- 
ations solve nothing, of course, but they bring us back to the issue. 
// we conceive an electron to be real as macroscopic objects are 
real, then the uncertainty principle, as well as other statements in 
quantum physics, becomes altogether opaque; but should we con- 
sider an electron in this way? 

2) Secondly, there is the famous paradox in regard to the 
nature of light, which now assumes the same unresolved status in 
physics that the grace and free-will controversy assumed in theol- 
ogy. Until the contemporary era, it had been largely accepted that 
light was propagated in waves. Only if this was so could various 
properties, including the phenomenon of interference, be at aU 
explicable. But there is now equally incontrovertible evidence in 

282 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

another direction; the photoelectric effect, for instance, is only to 
be explained if light does not travel in waves but is emitted in 
discrete energy-packets called "quanta." There is, then, appar- 
ently conclusive evidence for the fact that light must be conceived 
as consisting both in waves and in quanta. Yet how can this be 
imagined? A wave is a continuous phenomenon, quanta are dis- 
crete. How can the same entity be the subject of such contradic- 
tory predicates? Certainly no image that we can form can ever 
succeed in representing such an entity — which is tantamount to 
saying that its reality cannot be comparable to that of perceptual 

3) Finally, we may cite the discovery which began the whole 
trouble. Max Planck's discovery of the fact that atoms existed only 
in discrete energy-states. An atom may exist at higher or lower 
energy levels, but these levels have discrete values, and the atom 
does not occupy levels intermediate between them.* To appreciate 
the anomaly of this, we may think by analogy of a pot of water 
being heated which, instead of passing continuously through a 
progression of temperature states, existed now at 30° C, now at 
50° C, and now at 80° C. without ever being at the intervening 
stages. Not only is there discontinuity of energy, but many feel 
that there is title to talk of discontinuity of position; at least, there 
is no title to say that an electron successively observed at two 
different positions had to pass through intervening positions be- 
tween the observations. Obviously, if such remarks are genuinely 
applicable to the atom and its components, an atom cannot be 
real in any way analogous to the reahty of everyday objects and 
the question of its mode of reality is very much open. 

One way of understanding the basis of such difficulties as the 
foregoing is to see them as manifestations of the breakdown of the 
"spectator" view of nature within science. Classical physics had 
regarded itself as a pure witness of natural events, to which its 

4 To explain this peculiarity consistently with the constellation picture 
of the atom, the notion of a "quantum jump" of an electron to a new orbit 
is well known. 

Remainders 283 

witnessing made no difference, relying on a strict dichotomy be- 
tween the subjective and the objective. This rested on a pecuhar 
unacknowledged conception of the scientist as a sort of disem- 
bodied observer, but it raised no particular scientific difficulties as 
long as macroscopic objects were involved; after all, the influence 
of the light by which I viewed a falling body or a puUey and 
weight was neghgible enough to be discounted altogether. But, as 
the Uncertainty Principle shows, this is no longer true at the micro- 
scopic level. The scientist is not only observer but participant in 
nature, and this participation may well set Mmits to the accuracy 
and even to the mode of the knowledge open to him. 

Yet this physical interaction is only part of the story. It revives 
the philosophical view of the relational character of the whole 
perceptual field from which science sets out. And it has further 
led to a disposition to emphasize what might be called the "cogni- 
tional interaction" between theory and observation. That is why 
questions like the ones we have reviewed cannot be settled in terms 
of observation alone. The "objects" with which science deals are 
not items for observation alone: they are joint referents of theory 
and observation. The scientist cannot prescind entirely from theory 
in order to find a raw empirical given, for without theory he does 
not even know how to begin to look. The notion of a raw empiri- 
cal datum now has the appearance of a limit-concept rather than 
something with which science begins. 

The apphcation for the notion of a "bare fact" becomes increas- 
ingly difficult to determine, for in science theory has a hand in 
deciding what the "facts" are. Often when we feel ourselves to be 
stating a brute fact about experience, it will turn out that we are 
expressing a consequence of our theory. A vivid example of this 
is given by Stephen Toulmin.^ The familiar declaration that there 
is an absolute zero below which temperature cannot fall (—273° 
C.) sounds like an expression of a rather pecuhar empirical fact 
about nature — as if for some strange reason nature had decided 

5 Stephen Toulmin, The Philosophy of Science (New York: Harper 
Torchbooks), 1960, pp. 129-133. 

284 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

that it would refuse to get colder than that. Actually, the existence 
of an absolute zero is a consequence of our decision to measure 
heat, and to measure it in a certain way. The very conception of 
an Ideal Gas scale logically entails that there will be a lower limit, 
for in such a scale temperature-units are defined with reference 
to the pressure of an ideal gas, and it is impossible that pressure 
fall below zero; hence any temperature defined with reference to 
decreasing pressure must have a lower limit. Thus, the statement 
about absolute zero is not a descriptive statement about a brute 
fact of nature, but is a consequence of our theory. Most scientists 
would probably agree with Ryle's opinion that scientific concepts 
are "theory-laden" rather than descriptive,^ Even the "atom" is 
not an object of inspection which is divergently interpreted by 
classical and contemporary physics, but an object into whose 
conception theory enters essentially: the atom of classical physics 
and the atom of contemporary physics are two significantly differ- 
ent objects. 

In one obvious respect the changed attitude of science is a 
healthy sign. For it bespeaks an end to the "imperialism of 
method" which had too long caused the scientist to dismiss as 
unreal those features of reality which were not available through 
his sort of cognition. There is much more disposition on the part 
of contemporary philosophers of science to recognize the abstract 
character of their own method and to refrain from hypostasizing 
the traits of reality with which this method is exclusively preoccu- 
pied. As Eddington has pointed out,^ it would be a basic error for 
one who uses a fish net with two-inch holes to declare dogmati- 
cally that all fish in the ocean are larger than two inches. Just so, 
the scientist whose method is abstractly quantitative can only 
"catch" those features in the ocean of reality which can be 
caught by this method. Instruments have built-in limitations, and 
the theory which is the prime instrument of science allows it to 

^ Dilemmas, Tpp. 90-91. 

"^ The Philosophy of Physical Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press), 1949, pp. 16, 62. 

Remainders 285 

select out of the matrix of experience only certain aspects. The 
philosophically reflective scientist will not succumb to the tendency 
to project the abstract results of his quantitative method into inde- 
pendent reality, nor to derogate the cognitional value of other 
aspects of experience to which his method, by definition, prevents 
his access. It is one of the achievements of contemporary philos- 
ophy of science to have roused itself from a dogmatic rut and 
progressed towards this acknowledgment. 


If a brief treatment of the problem of science is presumptuous, 
so is a mere glance at the cognitive status of moral and aesthetic 
experience. Yet not to glance at aU in this direction would be to 
omit one of the important topics of current epistemological inter- 
est, and so we will once again be sketchy rather than default. 

The issue may be put thus : in what sense do moral and aesthetic 
experience give us knowledge? Do these experiences merely tell 
us something about our individual selves in our individuality or 
do they allow us to stand in the presence of a facet of reality 
which is really there and otherwise inaccessible? Nobody is in 
the habit of claiming extra-individual value for his experiences of 
pain, or disappointment, or fatigue, or anger, and upon sophisti- 
cated reflection it might be felt that moral and aesthetic feelings 
are no more revelatory of reality than these. Yet we must beware 
of proceeding too quickly here. Just because certain "feelings" are 
non-cognitional does not mean that all are. We should not too 
hastily dichotomize knowledge and feeling, for there is the clear 
possibility that certain knowledge may only be obtainable through 
feeling.® Unfortunately even common sense has a tendency to do 
just this — to expand a concern to eliminate emotion, which may 
be desirable in certain areas, to a total rejection of the cognitive 
value of experiences in which emotion shares at all. But this is a 

8 Louis Reid, Ways of Knowledge and Experience, p. 81. 

286 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

false "objectivity." It assumes that all facets of reality are accessi- 
ble from the same mental vantage-point — and there is nothing 
self-evident about this assumption. It may be that if I want to get 
the scientific picture of the physical universe or to get the details 
of an auto accident, I must discount the prejudicial influence of 
my own emotions or of others' interests. But that does not prove 
that if I want to know whether justice or beauty is extra-individual, 
I must eschew all emotional involvement and assume the attitude 
of a neutral observer — for this may guarantee my inability to 
observe what is really there. 

Our discussion wiU largely content itself with making that 1| 
distinction clear, without attempting the extremely difficult task 
of deciding how I can determine whether a particular picture is 
beautiful, or more beautiful than another, or whether a specific 
course of conduct is right or wrong. Questions like this are of 
considerable everyday interest and even urgency, but they are 
better left to the philosophy of art or to ethics. Our question is 
more like asking whether the philosophy of art and ethics have 
anything to argue about — whether their disputes have cognitional 
status at all. It is a question of the realm of reality into which we 
are introduced by moral and aesthetic experience. Is there any 
conclusive objection to considering this as extra-individual? The 
logical positivist has a simple answer to this question, his "emotive 
theory" of value. Only statements which can be sensibly verified 
are meaningful and cognitional, according to him; other statements 
do not, in spite of their propositional form, make assertions about 
reahty but are equivalent to exclamations.^ "Promises ought to be 
kept" or "Beethoven's Fifth is beautiful" are, on this basis, no 
more revelatory of reality than is the exclamation "Ouch!" They 
are more refined expressions of approval or disapproval, but are 
revelations of subjective individual reactions only. 

Now the obvious difficulty once this issue is raised is in deciding 
who settles it. Every answer to a disputed question must be given 

9 Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, chapter VI. 

Remainders 287 

by an answering consciousness and the problem is in deciding 
"who" responds. Certainly the neutral observer cannot really claim 
to settle the question, for the necessary data are not available to 
him: surely no moral hero and no poet would suppose that the 
exalted countenance which reality turns to him would be there if 
he looked as a "neutral observer" might look. Moral and aesthetic 
values are revealed only to one who experiences the exigence for 
them; if we deliberately set this exigence aside, there seems no 
way of authenticating their reality — any more than the poet's 
emotion could solve an equation or validate an historical docu- 
ment. But this in turn poses a problem. If reality in this realm is a 
function of an exigence, do we not again beg the question? If we 
feel this exigence, we will subscribe to the ontological uniqueness 
of the moral and aesthetic realm; if we do not feel it, we will not 
so subscribe. Between these positions there seems to be no effective 
mediation possible. One way or the other, we seem condemned to 
travel in a circle. 

The difficulty probably stems from our spontaneous need to 
establish universality as the hallmark of true cognition. Failing 
some kind of standard of universahty, we fear that we may be left 
at the mercy of subjectivism, everyone saying what he pleases and 
taking refuge in the contention that he sees what others do not see. 
If one is really seeing something, we tend to expect that others 
ought to be able to see it too. Genuine awareness ought to be at 
least universahzable in principle, we would think. Considerations 
like this were what precluded Kant's conceding the title "knowl- 
edge" to the moral and aesthetic realms, even though he was 
perhaps the foremost contributor to their philosophical explora- 
tion:^'* In the moral and aesthetic areas, the objective pole of 
experience is not characterized by beiag coercively imposed, sub- 
sumed under laws, and pubUcly available in the manner of scien- 
tific knowledge. With this in mind, too, certain modem Kantians 
have tried to enlarge his conception of consciousness, so as to 

10 The Critique of Practical Reason is devoted to moral experience, and 
Critique of Judgment in great part to aesthetics. 

288 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

grant cognition scope beyond his confines: Ernst Cassirer sought 
to enlarge the Kantian notion of a synthesis, so that every symbolic 
unification of experience found a cognitive place, from science to 
myth.^^ T. M. Greene tries to show that the moral and aesthetic 
realms possess the Kantian characteristics of objectivity in their 
own way and deserve the title of cognition.^- Yet Greene admits 
that the consciousness for which these characteristics are present 
is not the subject-in-general of phenomenal knowledge, but a 
special "cultivated" consciousness — and so again, we tend to be- 
come circular. 

It is not evident that there is any way out of this circle. The 
universality which we desire to characterize knowledge seems to 
be an aspiration, an ideal to which the individual consciousness 
refers itself and from which it seeks to draw sustenance. If we 
were to confuse this aspiration to universality with either a real 
or potential unanimity on the part of a factual human community, 
it would be difiicult to grant cognitive status to moral and aesthetic 
experience. Dietrich von Hildebrand follows the path of insisting 
that the reahty of moral values in particular, but also of aesthetic 
values, must be viewed without reference to any consensus. For 
von Hildebrand, a value is an autonomous datum, as irreducibly 
given as any in terms of which anyone would seek to justify it: it 
justifies itself through its own luminous presence, and no one who 
really stands in the presence of a value would feel it necessary 
that others also acknowledge its presence." 

Martin Heidegger, too, instead of trying to break the circle, 
jumps into it. The poet, Heidegger holds, is the voice of the holy.^* 
Poetic experience is the revelation of the trans-phenomenal depth 

11 See Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man (Garden City: Doubleday 
Anchor Books), 1956, pp. 15-41, 87-97. 

12 Theodore Meyer Greene, Moral, Aesthetic, and Religious Insight (New 
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press), 1957, esp. pp. 24-28, 59, 77. 

13 Dietrich von Hildebrand, Christian Ethics (New York: David McKay), 
1953, pp. 34-63, 169-281. 

14 See the essay on "Holderlin and the Essence of Poetry" in Existence 
and Being, trans, by Werner Brock (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co.), 1949. 

Remainders 289 

of Dasein, but it is a revelation accessible only to the poet and to 
his genuine audience. He who has ears to hear, he hears — and 
that is the end of it. We might extend this, as Heidegger does not, 
to moral experience. Man's experience of himself as one who is 
called upon to actuaMze moral values is the experience of himself 
as a being transcendent in relation to phenomenal experience. But 
this call is present as call, as appeal, and his affirmation of this 
realm of being always has the character of a response. His asser- 
tion that he inhabits a unique moral realm is inseparable from his 
decision to inhabit that realm. Experience in this realm is cogni- 
tional, but it is cognitional as appeal. Perhaps I may affirm some- 
thing about my existence from within the moral and aesthetic 
realm which I cannot affirm without that realm, and yet this affir- 
mation is never "automatically imposed" on me. It shares with 
existential knowledge the character of being a "free certitude," 
and it gives us further reason to believe that man's freedom is 
never absent from the assertion of the transcendent dimension of 
his being. 



Let us now briefly retrace the steps we have followed in this 
philosophical exploration. 

The epistemological question, we found, arises from the funda- 
mental ambivalence of the human situation: man both is and is 
not present to his own experience. This non-coincidence of man's 
existence with itself, the mark of his finitude and temporahty, has 
as its cognitive counterpart the non-coincidence of his knowledge 
with itself: just as man is not what he is, so he does not know 
what he knows. This cognitional non-coincidence may be regarded 
as a fissure between thought and experience, and also as an 
estrangement of thought from itself. The philosophy of knowledge 
is an attempt to permit thought to come into explicit recognition 
of its own essence; it is thought's effort to express and exhibit to 
itself the grounds of steadfast certitude. Knowledge is tied to 
expression: to "know" is not only to experience but to express 
one's experience to oneself. The judgment is a pivotal form of 
expression, but the real preoccupation of epistemology is with the 
ground of judgment: the nature, range, and origin of evidence. 

While human thought is characterized by the appearance/reality 
distinction, this distinction cannot render aU thought null, since it 
cannot consume its own foundation: man's questioning existence. 
With this realization, subjectivism is overcome. The subject which 
raises the epistemological question is the subject which exists out 
of the primordial question and thus already surpasses the isolated 
Cartesian ego. There can be no irreducible problem of the exist- 

Reprise 291 

ence of the non-self, for questioning consciousness is essentially 
bi-polar: it is the cognitional side of man's being-in-the-world. The 
real problem is not of the reality of the other, but of its status. 
The status of the non-self may vary, but the same situational 
existence which surmounts subjectivism conversely seems to pre- 
clude the "pure objectivity" of the rationahst. Knowledge is always 
a-letheia, always the revelation of being, but this un-veiling cannot 
be totally detached from the situational existence of the subject 
to which it is made. 

In the same vein, knowledge must have an analogical character. 
The presence of being is not revealed in the same way, for exam- 
ple, in sense perception as it is to abstract thought, personal exist- 
ence, or moral experience. In no case is consciousness purely 
"subjective," but the import of the reference to a non-self is 
clearer in some cases than in others. The precise assertion of 
"objectivity" which is underwritten by sense perception remains 
especially obscure, and while we reviewed the various opinions, 
we emphasized that in this area, the very meaning of "objectivity" 
stands in need of much greater clarification. The fact remains that 
sense experience is not inteUigible in terms of "private experi- 
ence": it even has a certain primacy as the most immediate and 
pervasive actualization of our being-in-the-world, the life-breath 
of human existence. 

In the search for a more unconditional assertion, caution must 
be exercised. There is always a distance between the plenitude of 
meaning contained in the primordial question and the order of 
assertion. All assertion contracts the original question. Yet since 
the issue of truth is specifically raised in the order of assertion, 
what I at least know is that I can a£5rm unconditionally my right 
to affirm. Then there is a justice to the claim that the primitive 
assertion, "something is," and the first principles issuing from it 
are unconditionally known. Even this claim, however, is subject to 
the reservation that these principles are cognitional absolutes in a 
being which is not an existential absolute: that is, even this sort 

292 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

of knowledge is affected by the non-coincidence of thought with 
itself and the fissure between man's thought and his existence, and 
they should not be regarded as "automatically self-validating" in 
an abstract way. Kant's objection that these principles cannot have 
a transcendent use would only be valid if they were purely formal 
rules, empty of content. To recognize that they are more than this 
depends on recognizing that the idea of "being" really has content; 
this recognition, in turn, cannot be achieved except by the singular 
subject in all his singularity and contingence. Hence the recognition 
of the concretely absolute character of the first principles is a 
continual achievement of thought, a hved transmutation of exist- 
ence into thought which is at the same time an appropriation of 
intelligibility by my existence. 

It was not held that the primitive assertion provides the sole 
trans-temporal assurance possible for thought. As affirmer, I am 
a total openness to the real. The content of affirmation, however, 
arises from the side of my existence. I affirm the presence of real- 
ity. In this affirmation concepts play a key role. Nevertheless, 
concepts cannot be satisfactorily looked upon as merely registering 
what is already contained in experience considered pre-conceptu- 
ally. Ideas are creative apprehensions of presences. They are an 
attempt to take up my total existence into the order of expression. 
Their universal character is also an expression of presence: a 
revelation of reality as specifically mind-ful, as answering to mind. 
In this light the controversy between rationalist and empiricist as 
to whether there is anything more in ideas than in experience is a 
vain one: it is based upon the error of thinking that the intelligi- 
bility of a concept must be either "dependent upon" or "inde- 
pendent of" experience. But if a concept is a creative apprehen- 
sion, then, like the artist's creative idea, its meaning explicitly 
emerges in a perpetual dialectical interplay with experience. Like 
the artists's idea, it both transcends the temporality of processive 
experience and is only revealed in it. Here seems to reside the 
relevance of such views as pragmatism, sociologism and histori- 

Reprise 293 

cism. The meaning of our concepts explicitly emerges to view as 
we read them back out of the very experiences which they make 
possible: the conviction of the adequacy of this explicit meaning 
becomes firmer as the canvas of existence reveals it more plainly. 

This dialectical relation by no means eUminates the possibility 
of trans-temporal insight or makes every judgment liable to future 
reversal. Just as the artist, while not able to give an exhaustive 
account of his creative idea, can recognize what is compatible with 
it, so though man cannot give an exhaustive account of his con- 
cepts (such as, "person," "liberty," "justice," etc.) he nevertheless 
can, when his consciousness is sufficiently developed, recognize 
what is compatible with them. Thus the perspectival character of 
thought, including its social and historical dimensions, does not 
eliminate the possibility of truth but rather is integral to it, just as 
the process of painting is integral to the recognition of the creative 
idea. A concept (at least one which is not purely formal) is not a 
brittle thought-checker with clearly marked outlines, but a pleni- 
tude of potential meaning. To know the meaning of a concept is 
not equivalent to being able to define it, and hence the dichotomy 
set up by logical positivism between merely tautologous necessary 
judgments and essentially corrigible empirical statements is a false 
one: if ideas are creative apprehensions, we may have genuine 
trans-temporal insights into experience. 

Since the content of affirmation arises from the side of our 
existence, the character of knowledge must be analogical. There 
is a range of presence, since presence is a function of my mode of 
existing. Perceptual objects, scientific entities, persons, moral val- 
ues, and the transcendent dimension of existence cannot be present 
in a univocal manner. If, for example, the I-thou experience is a 
unique way in which the self is open to the non-self, it has an 
irreducible and irreplaceable cognitional value. The meaning of 
evidence is manifold. Some evidence may be in function of my 
singular subjectivity. Hence the search for certitude cannot be 
construed as a search for rehef from the weight of singular exist- 

294 The Philosophy of Knowledge 

ence. Such a search is a quest not for assurance but for re-assur- 
ance, and would risk taking refuge either in formahsm or in a 
social consensus. 

Now there is some legitimate place even for this latter, since for 
man "seeing" is "seeing together." It is clear that man is most 
comfortable in dealing with "things," a thing being a triplex of 
concept, sense, and action. As such, a thing tends to be a correlate 
of a social convergence. It is no accident that man feels most at 
home in using the word "knowledge" in the re-assuring realm of 
science and every day practicality, where the appUcabihty of 
"thing" is clear-cut. But transcendence is not a "thing": hence it 
is known only analogously. For instance, even though a man may 
contend that he "knows" that the soul is immortal, he still fears 
to die. This fear would be literally insane if "knowing" in the 
realm of the transcendent meant exactly the same thing as "know- 
ing" in the phenomenal realm: one who was afraid to enter a 
room in which he knew a pleasant time awaited him would be 
psychotic. Even the notion of a "proof" undergoes a modification 
in the region of the transcendent, for every affirmation of the 
transcendent involves the response of my freedom. It is the most 
concrete of all affirmations, and supremely requires my creative 
participation in the truth which I pronounce. Perhaps as man 
fashions his human existence more and more in the image of his 
creative intuition of transcendence, this social convergence will 
bestow on knowledge of the transcendent something of the psy- 
chological security of our knowledge of "things"; if so, history 
has a very positive contribution to make to knowledge. 

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that the view here 
enunciated does not lead to arbitrariness. Just because there are 
different types of things which are sayable, we cannot conclude 
that everyone has a right to say what he pleases. It is a correct 
instinct which leads us to associate knowledge with the attribute 
of universality. What is always contrasted to knowledge, through- 
out its range, is an assertion which has only intra-individual value. 
In effect what we have emphasized is that there is a universahty 

Reprise 295 

proper to different realms of experience, and that they are not 
transferrable. For example, we cannot check a scientific pronounce- 
ment purely in terms of poetic experience, nor evaluate moral 
experience purely in terms of perceptual data. But that does not 
make any moral pronouncement or any scientific assertion equally 
acceptable. The moral fanatic and the victim of hallucination 
cannot take refuge in the claim that they see what others miss. 
For this claim is made in respect to realms which establish their 
own canons of truth. Error and confusion continue to be possible 
within each realm, but only the moral consciousness can recog- 
nize moral error, only the aesthetic consciousness aesthetic error, 
and so forth. 

One who demanded an extrinsic criterion which would auto- 
matically guarantee him against going wrong would actually be 
guUty of arbitrariness; for he would be misconstruing what knowl- 
edge is. He treats it as something which I "have," something, as 
it were, into which I may come into "permanent possession." But 
knowledge is the reflective expression of what I am — or what my 
experience is. Both my experience and its expression admit of 
endless purification, but this does not eradicate their cognitional 
value. In this purification, an indispensable element is the dialog 
between minds. In the long run, it is "we" who think, and "we" 
who know. True, knowledge is a supremely personal act, yet it is 
an act by which I know myself to participate in an order of uni- 
versal meaning. The existing universal which is human communion, 
in which my thought is born, is the medium through which I 
belong to the cognitional universal, to truth. 


The primary sources and many of the secondary sources germane to 
the subject matter of each chapter have been mentioned in the notes 
to the chapters; for the most part, the following bibliography does not 
duplicate books already mentioned, but adds further related material 
and is meant to be supplementary in a limited and selective vi'ay. 
Numbers refer to the chapters. 

I. Henri Bergson, An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. T. E. 

Hulme, New York and London, Putnam, 1912. 
W. Macneile Dixon, The Human Situation, New York, Oxford 

University Press, 1958. 
D. M. Harding, The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth, New 

York, Harper, 1953. 
Jose Ortega y Gasset, What is Philosophy?, trans. Mildred 

Adams, New York, W. W. Norton & Co., 1960. 
L. M. Regis, O, P., Epistemology , trans. Imelda Choquette 

Byrne, New York, Macmillan, 1959. 
II. James Collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy, 

Milwaukee, Bruce, 1954. 
Etienne Gilson and Thomas Langan, Modern Philosophy, Des- 
cartes to Kant, New York, Random House, 1963. 

III. William A. Luijpen, Existential Phenomenology, Pittsburgh, 

Duquesne University Press, 1960. 
William J. Richardson, S. J., From Phenomenology to Thought, 
The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1964. (on Heidegger) 

IV. John V. Canfield and Franklin H. Donnell, Jr., Readings in the 

Theory of Knowledge, New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 

298 Related Reading 

Maxwell J. Charles worth, Philosophy and Linguistic Analysis, 

Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press, 1959. 
Thomas E. Hill, Contemporary Theories of Knowledge, New ! 

York, Ronald Press, 1961. 
John A. Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy, London, 

Gerald Duckworth, 1957. 
V. Peter Coffey, Epistemology, London and New York, Longmans, 

Green and Co., 1917, 2 vols., vol. IL 
VL Harry R. Klocker, S. J., Thomism and Modern Thought, New 

York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. 
Jacques Maritain, Distinguish to Unite, or The Degrees of 

Knowledge, newly trans, under supervision of Gerald B. 

Phelan, New York, Scribner, 1959. | 

VIL Coffey, op. cit., vol. I. 

Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas 

Aquinas, trans. L. K. Shook, New York, Random House, 

1956, pp. 187-248. 
Yves Simon, Introduction a VOntologie du Connattre, Paris, 

Desclee de Brouwer, 1934. 
St. Thomas Aquinas, On Truth and Falsity and on Human 

Knowledge, Chicago, Regnery, 1941. {Summa Theologiae, I, 

qu. 16, 17, 84-88, prepared for the Great Books Foundation.) 

VIII. George Boas, The Limits of Reason, New York, Harper, 1961. 

Irving L. Horowitz, Philosophy, Science and the Sociology of 

Knowledge, Springfield, 111., Thomas, 1961. 
William James, Pragmatism and four essays from The Mean- 
ing of Truth, New York, Meridian Books, 1955. 
Raymond Klibansky and H. J. Paton, edit., Philosophy and 

History, New York, Harper Torchbook, 1963. 
Jacques Maquet, The Sociology of Knowledge, trans. John F. 

Locke, Boston, Beacon Press, 1951 (a critical analysis of 

Karl Mannheim and Pitirim Sorokin). 
Heinrich Rickert, Science and History; a Critique of Positivist 

Epistemology, trans., George Reisman, New York, Van Nos- 

trand, 1962. 
IX. Frederick Copleston, S. J., Contemporary Philosophy, Studies 

in Logical Positivism and Existentialism, Westminster, Md., 

Newman Press, 1956. 

Related Reading 299 

Robert O. Johann, S. J., "The Return to Experience," The Re- 
view of Metaphysics, XVII, 319-339 (March 1964). 
X. James Collins, The Existentialists, Chicago, Regnery, 1952. 

Jean Daniel ou, God and the Ways of Knowing, trans., Walter 
Roberts, New York, Meridian Books, 1957. 

Karl Jaspers, The Perennial Scope of Philosophy, trans. Ralph 
Manheim, New York, Philosophical Library, 1949. 

Kurt Reinhardt, The Existentialist Revolt, Milwaukee, Bruce, 
XI. R. C. Kwant, Encounter, Pittsburgh, Duquesne Univ. Press, 

Gabriel Marcel, Royce's Metaphysics, trans. Virginia and Gor- 
don Ringer, Chicago, Regnery, 1956. 

Roger Troisfontaines, S. J., De I'existence a I'etre. 2 Vols., 
Paris, J. Vrin, 1953. Tome II, pp. 10-60 (on Marcel). 
XII. a) Arthur S. Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World, 
New York, Macmillan, 1929. 

Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy, New York, Har- 
per Torchbooks, 1962. 

Max Planck, The New Science, three complete works, trans. 
James Murphy and W. H. Johnston, New York, Meridian 
Books, 1959. 

b) Ernst Cassirer, The Problem of Knowledge, trans. W. H. 
Woglom and Charles W. Hendel, New Haven, Yale Uni- 
versity Press, 1950. 

W. E. Kennick, Art and Philosophy, Readings in Aesthetics, 
New York, St. Martin's Press, 1964. 

Joseph Margolis, Philosophy Looks at the Arts (readings). 
New York, Scribner, 1962. 

Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, New 
York, Pantheon Books, 1953. 

Yves Simon, Critique de la Connaissance morale, Paris, Laber- 
gerie, 1934, 

Dietrich von Hildebrand, Christian Ethics, New York, David 
McKay Co., 1953, pp. 34-63, 169-281. 


Absolute, knowledge as open to, 

62, 128-131, 140, 146, 194 
Abstraction, theory of, 167-168 
Action, and knowledge, 151, 187- 

of being, 17 
of knowledge, 15-19 
Analytical propositions, 219 
A priori, 116, 143-144, 199 
Aristotle, 3, 156, 161, 216-111 
St. Augustine, 5, 32, 231, 246 
Ayer, A. J., 91-95, 213-218, 286 

Bacon, Sir Francis, 276 


as absolute idea, 129, 146 
not an objectified notion, 238, 

Bergson, Henri, 178, 217, 226 

Berkeley, George Bishop, 76-83 

Broad, C. D., 90-91, 97-98 

Brunner, Auguste, 57-58 

Buber, Martin, 267-275 

Burtt, E. A., 120 

Cassirer, Ernst, 288 


philosophical principle of, 135- 

and science, 140-141 
Certitude, 9, 27 

absolute, 129-130 

"free," 246-250 

types of, 147-151 
Childe, Vere, 16, 193 
Circle, epistemological, 59-61 
Cogito, 27-33, 163 
Common sense, 7-9, 68-69 

as creative apprehensions, 171- 

distinguished from sense, 152- 

and experience, 177-178, 190 
Conceptualism, 160-163 
Connaturality, knowledge by, 20 

bi-polarity of, 47-51 

diverse realms of, 125-126, 

intentionality of, 49 

judgmental and perceptual, 

not a container, 44-47 

not a thing, 67 



Consciousness (Cont.) 
of self, 49-50 
structure of, 44 ss. 
Contradiction, principle of, 131- 

Creative character of knowledge, 
171-178, 183,204-205,249- 
Criterion of truth, 24, 246-247 

Descartes, Rene, 7, 63, 148, and 

all of Chapter 2 
Determinism, 140-141 
Dewey, John, 69, 187-197 
Dialog, 57-58, 65-66, 295 
Doubt, 152 

critical, 25ss. 

dream-doubt, 29-30, 40-43 
Dualism, Cartesian, 40 

Eddington, Sir Arthur S., 84, 95- 

97, 284 
Einstein, Albert, 280 
Empiricism, sense, 71, 158-159, 

def., 12 
method, 19-23 

not in senses, 104-105 
paradox of, 24—26 
sources of, 27, 105-106 

and existence, 130-131 
knowledge of, 171-178, 179- 

ontological and gnoseological, 
Evidence, 20, 147-148, 226-231 

Existential aspects of knowing, 

Existentialism, 226-250 

de Finance, Joseph, 224, 245 

Finitude, 13 

Forms, Plato's theory of, 42, 160, 

Foundations of knowledge, 61-62 

Gilson, Etienne, 9-10, 11 

"Given," 221 


knowledge of, 242-246, 275 
ontological argument for, 38 

Gorgias, 11 

Greene, T. M., 288 

Hartmann, Nicolai, 186 

Hegel, G. W. F., 51, 132, 197, 

232, 267 
Heidegger, Martin, 5, 18, 53-55, 

65, 288-289 
Heisenberg, Werner, 118, 141, 

von Hildebrand, Dietrich, 218- 

225, 288 
Hirst, R. J., 93-94 
Historicity, 197-206 
Hoenen, Peter, 138-139 
Hume, David, 141-147, 209-213 
Husserl, Edmund, 49, 66, 123, 


Idealism, epistemological, 35 


as objects of knowing, 72-75 
Descartes' clear and distinct, 

Identity, principle of, 131-132 



Illusion, 8, 89-90 

Images, and distortion of thought, 

44-47, 172-173, 226-228 
Induction, 207-218 
Insight, 201, 219-222 
Intentionality, 49, 167 
Interpersonal experience, 266- 


Descartes on, 38 

in von Hildebrand, 218-221 

James, William, 1 8 
Judgment, 19, 119, 168-170 
primary, 130 

Kant, Immanuel, 52, 116-117, 
142-147, 203-204, 287-288 
Kierkegaard, Soren, 14, 231-236 

and action, 187-191 

analogy of, 15-19 

by connaturality, 20 

creative character of, 171-178 

of essences, 171-187 

and existence, 12-15, 62 

and expression, 19-20, 271 

as identification, 46 

indefinable, 15 

and love, 21, 271-274 

Plato's theory of, 42 

proper object of human, 223- 

question as fundamental form 
of, 61-67 

of self, 50 

of the singular, 170 

situational character of, 51ss. 

social and historical dimensions 

of, 197-206 
through concepts, 153-157 
as trans-temporal, 201-202, 

variety in meaning of, 5 


and distortion of thought, 47 

essentially social, 58 

"ordinary language," 100-102 

"two-language" theory, 91-92, 
96, 99 
Laplace, Pierre, 141, 277 
"Laws of nature," 210, 279 
Lean, Martin, 97-99 
Lewis, C. I., 193, 201, 203 
Locke, John, 70-75 
Logical positivism, 246. See also 

Love, 21, 270-275 

Mannheim, Karl, 199-200 
Marcel, Gabriel, 21, 51-53, 236- 

241, 243, 245, 247, 248, 

249, 267-275 
Marechal, Joseph, 130, 176 
Maritain, Jacques, 7-8, 12, 20, 

Material objects, notion of, 91- 

95, 98 
Matter, 80 

Mead, George H., 267 
Mechanism, 277 
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 56-57, 

Mill, John Stuart, 93, 253-255 
Miller, Barry, 17 
Moore, G. E., 88-89 



Moral experience, 285-289 
Mystery vs. problem, 236-241 

"Natural view," 66 

Newman, John Henry Cardinal, 

Nominalism, 157-160 
Noumena, Kant on, 1 16-117 


ambiguity in meaning of, 119- 

and relativity of knowledge, 
Objects, of science, 118-119, 

Ortega y Gasset, Jose, 18, 55-56, 

Ostensive signification, 97-100 
Other minds, 251-260 

argument by analogy for, 253- 

Paradigm argument, 95-97 
Pascal, Blaise, 231, 246 
Perception, Chapters 5 and 6 
objectivity of, 113-115 
and science, 83-87, 112, 118- 

Phantasm, 174 
Phenomena, Kant on, 116-117, 

Phenomenalism, 91-95, 107 
Phenomenology, 228-231. See 

also Husserl, Heidegger, Mer- 

leau-Ponty, Marcel, von Hil- 

Pieper, Josef, 181 
Planck, Max, 282 

Plato, 3, 4, 6, 42, 158, 160, 161, 

163, 164, 246 
Polanyi, Michael, 205 
Pragmatism, 187-197 
Principles, first, 131-140 
Protagoras, 11 
Proust, Marcel, 125 
Psychology, distinct from episte- 

mology, 22, 167-168 
Pyrrho, 11 

Qualities, sense, 69-70 

primary and secondary, 73-75, 
108-110, 123, 125, 195, 278 
tertiary, 85-86, 195 
Question, as fundamental cogni- 
tion, 63ss. 

Realism, 9-10, 35 

immediate, 110 

moderate, 163 

naive, 68-70, 103 

virtual, 108-119 
Regis, L. M., 17, 22 
Reid, Louis Arnauld, 285 
Relativism, 11, 200 
Relativity of knowledge, 197-203. 
See also Sensations, Concepts. 
Representationalism, 75, 86-87 
van Riet, Georges, 22, 183 
Rousselot, Pierre, 171, 177, 183, 

Royce, Josiah, 266—267 
Russell, Bertrand, 16, 22, 36, 88- 

Ryle, Gilbert, 40, 101-102, 284 

Sartre, Jean-Paul, 14, 263-265 
Scepticism, 9-12 



Scheler, Max, 69, 201, 254, 261- 


and perception, 83-87 
philosophy of, 276-285 
world view of, 8, 74-75, 276- 
Scientism, 83-87 

consciousness of, 49-50 
social character of, 260, 266- 

conditions for, 105 
objectivity of, 86-87, 113 
relational character of, 108, 123 
Sense-datum theory, 87-95 
Sensibles, proper and common, 

106, 111-112 
Sextus Empiricus, 1 1 
Shame, 264-265 
Situation, being-in-a-, 51-58 
Smith, Norman Kemp, 37 
Sociology of knowledge, 197-206 
Socrates, 3, 156, 233-234 
Solipsism, 35-36 
Soul, immortality of, 233-234, 

Spencer, W. Wylie, 258 
Stark, Werner, 199, 200, 201 
Stebbing, L. Susan, 95-97, 99- 

van Steenberghen, Fernand, 22, 

111-112, 114-115 
Subjectivism, 33-36 
Subjectivity, 231-236, 241, 244, 

Sufficient reason, principle of, 

Sympathy, 262-263 

Tautology, necessary truth as, 

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, 205 
Testimony, 150-151 
Theory, and fact, 283-284 
"Thing," notion of, 144, 203- 

204, 294 
St. Thomas Aquinas, 22, 48-49, 
167, 171-172, 174, 181, 222 
Time, 13-14 

Toulmin, Stephen, 283-284 
Transcendence, 242-246, 275 
Transcendental ego, 229-231 
def., 19 

criterion of, 24, 246 
pragmatism and, 191-193 
of the trans-phenomenal, 243- 

trans-temporal character of, 
201-202, 219-221 


as criterion for truth, 287-288, 

not equivalent to impersonal 
validity, 244-245 
Universals, 152-157, 164-166 

Verifiability, principle of, 215 

Whitehead, Alfred North, 75 
Wilhelmsen, Frederick, 22 
Wisdom, John, 256-257 
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 100-102 
Wonder, 3-7 
World, being-in-a-, 51-58 


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